Category Archives: Recent Reviews

“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” delights!!!

The marvelous cast of the Arts Club production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” – photo courtesy of Arts Club

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Arts Club Vancouver
extended until August 25th.

I first became interested in spelling bees after my 2nd cousin Tracey won the inaugural Canspell regional spelling bee in the Vancouver region.  At the young age of 14, she then went off to the Scripps National Bee in Washington DC, and the Canspell National in Ottawa where she placed in the top 5.  I diligently followed the emails that her mother sent the family. Next I watched the movie Akeelah and the Bee, about a young child becoming involved in a spelling Bee, and being trained by Laurence Fishburne's character of Dr. Larabee.  Richard Gere also starred in the movie Bee Season.

This play captures all the silly ideas of the importance of spelling bees as well as the serious undercurrents of perfectionism and high expectations placed on the young competitors of these contests.  This is afterall a musical.  And musicals are meant to be fun and light.  And this musical delivers on all accounts… except I don't know if I can hum any of the tunes… but I was humming something when I walked out of the theatre.

The Arts Club has put a real effort into this production.  I remember earlier in May, when Arts Club manager Howard Jang told me that this was going to be very enjoyable.  He's right.  You step into the theatre, and the set design accurately represents a high school gymnasium, right down to the lockers outside in the hall.  You are indeed transported into a world of nostalgia as the musical begins with event host Rona Lisa Peretti entering the gym to set up.  There is a flashback
to when she is a little girl and she won the third annual spelling bee by correctly
spelling syzygy.  It brings a certain emotional induction to the theatre play, as I recalled watching the CBC documentary Generation: The Chan Legacy, that showed tv film footage of my young cousin Tracey spelling her word at the Canspell contest.

There are five contestants that are supplemented by four “contestants” chosen from the audience.  This adds to a wonderful spontaneity for the play, as each night will be different with the audience members chosen. 

This play is also a wonderful fit for multicultural Vancouver.  Two of the characters are Asian.  Chip Tolentino is a boy scout having issues with puberty.  This returning champion of last year's contest is played by Vincent Tong.  Marcy Park is an over-achieving recent transplant that sings “I Speak Six Languages” and played by Rosie Simon.

This is a fun play and perfect for a summer evening of fun.  25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has been extended until August 25th.

More soon…..

Happy Canada Day! Joceylyn Petit… Scottish-Chinese-Canadian fiddle player!

Happy Canada Day!

I
am listening to the cd music of 15 year old
half-Chinese/half-Scottish 100% Canadian fiddle player Jocelyn
Pettit. 
Perfect for the recognition of Pioneer Chinese
and Scots who helped to build British Columbia.

photo

I had the pleasure of meeting Jocelyn and her mother Siew, at the BC Highland Games last Saturday. 

I had written:

Hello Jocelyn
and Siew. I am really enjoying listening to Jocelyn's cd. I can
remembering
hearing some good fiddle music at the games, looked over at the stage,
but
didn't see my Blackthorn friends… but a small trio or so. I love
the
sound on the cd. I cranked it up in the car.

Great that you have been on CBC Early Edition with Rick Cluff.
But I
think Sheryl McKay's North By Northwest – would be perfect for you.
I have
played my accordion with Blackthorn, and the Chinese-fusion group Silk
Road
Music Ensemble. Hopefully one day, we can have you perform at my Gung
Haggis
Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.

We have spun off a CBC
Television performance special back in 2004, and I hope that it can be
expanded for the future. I can be seen playing my accordion in the CBC
TV
documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy – about my
great-great-grandfather
and the contributions that his subsequent descendants have made to
society. I
would like to purchase additional cd's to give out as gifts. I
will write
up a review of the cd within the week. Please let me know when you are
playing
in the Vancouver area, and I will blog the events.

Cheers, Todd Wong

Her father replied:

Hello Todd,
 
Thank you very much for your very nice
message.  We really appreciate your kind words!  I wish I had the
chance to meet you at the recent BC Highland Games and Scottish
Festival, as my
daughter, Jocelyn, and wife, Siew, were delighted to talk with you.  You
have accomplished great achievements with your music performances, work
with
CBC, and special events production!  Bravo for such fascinating and
remarkable work!  We are keen to know more and participate!
 
Thank you for enjoying our music at the
BC Highland
Games & Scottish Festival, as well as on our recent debut CD.  At
the
Games, we performed a short set and came ready for much more, in case
time
allowed.  We were excited to perform with our newly-joined pipes player
(small/bellow pipes), and we had our guitar player as well (but no cello
player
for this show).  The CD shows the diversity and versatility of Jocelyn's
music.  Her original compositions are complex and beautifully layered in
sound texture, her arrangements of contemporary and traditional tunes
are fresh
and delightful, and her choice of tunes and melodies is interesting and
engaging.  Of course, I am a very proud dad, but far beyond my word, she
is
widely receiving praise for her ideas, innovation, and skills
(especially for
her young age).
 
Thank you for the ideas you have
mentioned –
preceding our (sold-out) North Vancouver CD Release Concert (Shaw
Theatre),
Sheryl McKay was kind enough to play Jocelyn's “Morning Glory” on her
show.  It was very much appreciated – Jocelyn is committed to making
music
her career, and along the way we learn of the many career-path
challenges (such as gaining recognition and opportunities, with
predominantly instrumental world/folk music).  Definitely, thank you for
your ideas!
 
Thank you for writing up a review of
our
CD!  That is really excellent!  We are very appreciative of the word
getting out there, of Jocelyn's music and her music gift of exceptional
talent.
 
Thank you also for wanting to purchase
more
CDs.  This can be done at
 http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/JocelynPettit

 

We hope to see you soon!
 
Cheers,

Review: Etch-YOUR-Sketch-OFF

VACT's Etch-YOUR-Sketch-OFF presents new teams for new Asian-Canadian sketch comedies!

special to www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com

by Michael Brophy

Thursday night I attended an event put on by Vancouver Asian
Canadian Theater which is organized by Joyce Lam. She is the original
creator and producer of the Etch-YOUR-SketchOFF comedy show who has
recently been honored with the BC Community Achievement Award for her
work in shaping our provinces theatrical community.

Host of the show, Tom Chin, related his witty observations on the
lifestyles of the stereotypical aspiring Asian lawyer, dentist, or
doctor and disclosed “what happens to Asians that don't make it to med
school”. With a piercing “Aiyya!” Tom introduced the first group SFUU
MAN CHU which promised the most value for ones dollar during these hard
economic times by presenting “one sketch for every dollar spent”.

Banana Drama, winner of this years People Choys Awards, began with a
sketch bringing light to our North American dependence on all things
made in China by stripping a young man of all his Chinese made clothing
until left wearing only a skimpy man-kini — more male nudity ensued as
a comedic theme of the night.

New teams to the sketch-off scene include
Beef Noodle Soup, a two man group that presented bi-curious characters
wanking to an image of Gordon Campbell, had the audience cringing with
muffled laughter. Asians Bleed Red, also a new addition to the theater,
did a well choreographed dance to the tune of “Domo Arrigato, Mr.
Robato”.

One of my personal favorite groups this year and a 2008
recipient of the Rice Bowl Prize had Simon Yang of The Yangtzers
performing a contemporary dance with a hoover vacuum revealing the
eroticism between one man and his servile machine. Other gut-busting notables Angry Asian
Men and Laughing Make Mind Damage helped make it clear that Asian North
Americans have come a long way in comedy from the likes of William
Hungs short lived career as an entertainer. 

My night with the V.A.C.T.
crew was capped with an after-party that took place at Earls in
Yaletown which had members of the audience and actors in the sketch-off
socializing well past midnight. I would highly recommend attending if
you haven't in the past years. This annual event is always brimming
with a culturally diverse humor that resonates the funny bone with
gratuitous displays of raunchy buffoonery.

Ali & Ali 7: RCMP, Immigration and tasers – Oh My!

Ali & Ali 7 Return to the stage for another outrageous skewering of Canadian Multiculturalism

WORLD PREMIERE of Ali & Ali
Created and performed by Camyar Chai, Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef
Co-starring Laara Sadiq and Raugi Yu
Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia

at the Cultch’s Historic Theatre
Apr 14–24
Tickets for Cultch Performances available at 604-251-1363 or https://tickets.thecultch.com/

at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts’ Studio Theatre
April 28 – May 1
Tickets for Shadbolt performances at 604-205-3000 or boxoffice@burnaby.ca

Ali & Ali are to Canadian multiculturalism what Wayne & Shuster
are to Canadian culture.  They poke fun at ourselves, to help us laugh
at the absurdity of our history and culture.

But in today's world, Wayne & Shuster, comedy kings of the 1960's and 1970's, have given way to Kids from the Hall, and Russell Peters.  Canadian culture is no longer white and red, our cultural diversity includes black and yellow and pink and especially brown.  Canadians also come from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Azerbaijian.  Wayne & Shuster used to make fun of foreign accents.  Camyar Chai and Marcus Youssef as brown immigrant refugees from the fictional country of Agraba, take ethnic jokes to a whole different level – but with some very serious political commentary.

This
was my first time at Ali & Ali. I really enjoyed reading the
published play Ali & Ali and the Axes of Evil.  I couldn't stop laughing at some of the bits about Asian Heritage Month, and the Scottish stage manager.  For the 2010 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner, I had invited Marcus Youssef to read/perform an excerpt with comedian Charles Demers.  So I wasn't going to miss them.

The show opens with a montage of  current world leaders from Libya, USA, and Canada.  It's a tribute rap to Moammar Gadhafi.  Wow… we are definitely in a different cultural perspective here.  The play is interactive with the audience, asking questions, getting responses.  Surprise!  They are spoofing and utilizing experimental theatre audience participation as well as Bertolt Brecht's agitprop theatre.

Ali & Ali are presenting a show to the audience.  They introduce their assistant as Yogi Ru, in actuality Vancouver actor Raugi Yu.  Raugi is the straight man to this zany duo, even dressing up as Obama's Portuguese Water Dog. 

Along the way, an ethnic South Asian RCMP officer (Laara Sadiq) appears, to charge
Ali & Ali with illegal immigration to Canada.  A kangaroo court (or
would it be a “moose court” in Canada?) ensues and Ali & Ali must
defend and explain themselves. This is where the character of Raugi steps up as an interpreter to
explain the actions of Ali & Ali to the RCMP officer.  But true to
Ali & Ali interpretation and misinterpretion, as Canadian
sacred institutions
such as the RCMP are poked with scenarios including tasers and cultural sensitivity
training. Broad outrageous humour got loud laffs from the audience -
especially the puppet show!

Ali & Ali poke some fun at Barak Obama's New
World Order. The puppet show took on a weird outrageous vibe, as talking heads of Afro-American movement cultural icons, criticize Obama policies in the White House.  It would have been nice if they had been able to identify who their “Jiminy Cricket” conscience guides were, as many audience members are probably not versed in Afro-American revolutionaries such as Malcolm X and Angela Davis.  

Some serious topics are addressed such as
prison detention & torture, illegal immigration and deportation.  This show uses the slap stick humour to set up and explain the underlying social commentary.  How does a normal human being cope with being detained in prison on unspecific charges?  The balance between the serious and absurdist swings back and forth, eliciting emotional reactions from the audience.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  There are many in-jokes, dependent upon the audience's knowledge of many things.  It is like a television channel-flipping barrage of issues.  But the play succeeds in informing the audience about our country's detention of prisoners, and it creating new cultural perspectives of multiculturalism.  Sometimes, how you see the world really does depend on what colour your eyes are.

Definitely not for everybody – but neither was Monty Python or Wayne & Shuster.

Check out the Neworld website:
http://www.neworldtheatre.com/productions-ali-and-ali-7.html

Review: Koto Concert at National Nikkei Museum & Hieritage Centre July 26

The Japanese Canadian National Museum
Koto Concert – Chikako Kanehisa, a benefit concert for the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre
Sunday, July 26, 2009, 3pm

Review by Devon Cooke
- for www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com

Certain parts of Japanese culture export very well.  Sushi and anime are so popular in the West that they have a life of their own that is separate from their Japanese origins.  This is wonderful, but it may leave a somewhat distorted image of Japanese culture as a whole.  Japan is much more than raw fish and giant robots!

Judging by the audience at the Koto Concert put on by the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre, the koto, Japan’s national musical instrument, still has a long way to go before it penetrates Vancouver’s cultural consciousness — nearly all of the crowd was of Japanese origin, with the odd Japanese-by-marriage family member and a few curious seniors mixed in.  If only everyone was so curious!

The concert, which featured professional koto player Chikako Kanehisa and shakuhachi master Mitsuhashi Kifu, was presented as part of the 80th anniversary of Japanese-Canadian relations that also brought the Emperor of Japan to Vancouver earlier this month.  Those fortunate (or curious) enough to attend got to see a part of Japanese culture that is barely visible in the West.

Certainly, I had never heard of the koto before the concert, but the sound is familiar.  Anyone with a passing interest in Asian cultures has probably heard a koto — or one of its relatives — without knowing what it was.  It’s not an easy instrument to describe; it resembles a huge, six-foot long zither with thirteen movable bridges.  The strings are plucked (or strummed, or thumped, or rubbed) with the right hand on one side of the bridge while the left hand is used to create pitch shifts or vibrato on the other side of the bridge.

Listening to it was a complex experience — it’s the kind of music that would be impossible to put in writing because there are so many intangible aspects that aren’t captured by quarter notes on a staff.  It had a very organic feel, like listening to birdsong.  Ironically, the song entitled “Like a bird” (鳥のように) was one of the least like this, it carried a more regular rhythm and more clearly defined pitches than some of the others.

Perhaps because of this, it was one of the more accessible, exciting songs to my Western ear, but I couldn’t help but feel that the beauty of the instrument was captured best in some of the other songs — the ones with slightly bent pitches and somewhat irregular rhythms.  The (Japanese?) idea that beauty is inherent in small, slight imperfections is one that has always resonated with me, and the Koto struck me as an instrument where the skill in playing came from creating just the right pattern of imperfections.

The shakuhachi flute is an instrument that I am more familiar with, but it too impressed me with the range of sounds it could produce.  Like the koto, many of the notes were bent in a way that seems more reminiscent of a saxophone or a trumpet than a flute.  A number of times, Mitsuhashi impressed me by playing a continuous note that rose or fell almost a full scale — an impressive feat for an instrument with only a small, “fixed” set of notes.

I think I enjoyed the duets most of all.  The instruments (and musicans) complimented each other well.  On its own, the lonely, longing timbre of the shakuhachi threatened to overwhelm me with its sadness, but the sharp, epic, almost militaristic presence of the koto helped bring the sound back to earth and remind me that, whatever I was feeling inside, there was still a whole world out there to explore.

For most of the audience, the Koto Concert would have been a breath of familiar air (or, perhaps to the second-generation Canadians, a possible answer to the question “Where did I come from?”)  For me, my personal interest was piqued because it was foreign.  This is not a side of Japanese culture I had previously discovered, and I was happy to have to opportunity to explore it.  Koto concerts in Vancouver do not come along every day (or even every year), so I was happy to discover a new side of Japanese music.

Thoroughly Modern Millie scores both hits and misses, but is splendidly cast

arts-DianaKaarinainmillie.jpg
Diana Kaarina stars in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Asian-Canadian actors steal the stage in TUTS' Thoroughly Modern Millie

Theatre Under the Stars at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park

July 15 to Aug. 22

Tickets $32 to $39,

www.tuts.ca

Falling in love is one of the most wonderful things in life.  There's lots of “falling in love” in the Thoroughly Modern Millie production by Theatre Under the Stars.  This makes it a wonderful choice to see with a date.

Diana Kaarina is wonderful as the title character Millie Dumount, who hops off a bus from Kansas and makes her way in New York City.  Set in 1922, Millie decides to find a rich husband, by seducing her boss.  Trouble is, first she has to get a job, and a place to live.. 

Millie settles in at the Hotel Priscilla, a place for young women.  It's on the wrong side of 42nd St., and run by the very strange Mrs. Meers – who may be Chinese or not.  Millie has a series of adventures that include getting a job as a stenographer, going to a speakeasy during prohibition, getting arrested, and going to a fabulous party in the penthouse suite of socialite Muzzy van Hossmere.

Everything about this musical is campy, and over the top.  The music is a pastiche of well-known melodies from other productions.  The plot contains misplaced identities, misunderstood intentions, star-crossed lovers, and a kidnapping.  But the wonderful dancing and singing numbers make you forget that everything seems cliched.  Indeed, Thoroughly Modern Millie is designed to pay homage to old musicals, with tongue-in-cheek fun.

Diana Kaarina brings a lot of experience to this production.  She created the role of Miss Dorothy Brown (Millie's BFF) for the First National tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003).  Kaarina brings lots of Broadway experience, having been the closing Eponine in Les Miserables (2003) and also playing roles in Rent and The Phantom of the Opera.

Kaarina brings a touching humaness to the character of Millie.  She isn't just the talk-talking gold digger who wants to marry her boss, but she also cares for her friends and is willing to make sacrifices.

All the lead roles are played well.  Meaghan Anderssen plays the ditzy Miss Dorothy Brown with great comic aplomb, which she did so very well in last year's TUTS production of Annie Get Your Gun.

Danny Balkwill plays Jimmy Smith, the poor but dashing young son of a gardener.  Audience members might recognize him as one of the competitors in Canadian Idol. 

Seth Drabinsky plays Trevor Graydon, the boss that Millie wants to marry.  Drabinsky excells in elocution, as he sings “The Speed Test” which is a Gilbert & Sullivan parody, complete with Busby Berkeley styled dancing.  Wow!

I didn't expect to see Asian-Canadian actors or Asian characters in
Thoroughly Modern Millie.  But it was there in subtle ways… and not
so subtle ways.  The program points out that lead actor Diana Kaarina is Half -Finnish and Half-Chinese. Either way, she is still a beauty, similar to Smallville actor Kristin Kreuk who ancestry is Half-Dutch/Half-Chinese.

The subplot involves the character of Mrs. Meers who runs the Hotel Priscilla, and also employs two Chinese henchmen for a side business of kidnapping.  Sarah Rodgers is over the top, as Mrs. Meers – so highly unbelievable character, that she can only exist in a musical.  Aaron Lau and Daeyoung Danny Kim play the characters of Ching Ho and Bun Foo.  They strive to make the characters realistic, speaking in only Chinese, and also performing some martial arts moves on stage.

While I found it refreshing to see Asian actors playing authentic Chinese characters speaking good Chinese, without being traditionally stereotyped. The stereotypes still persisted in other ways.

Racial stereotypes of Chinese in Thoroughly Modern Millie

I was shocked
that this musical contained lots of out-dated Chinese stereotypes including:
a Chinese laundry, kidnapping for white slavery, bad Chinese accents,
and a female actor in “white face” playing a white woman masquerading
as a Chinese woman. Much less culturally sensitive than Robert Downey
Jr playing a black man in Tropic Thunder

Part
of the sub-plot is that white girls are sold into white slavery and
shipped off to China, by the character of Mrs. Meers, a white woman dressed up as a Chinese woman -
who doesn't even have a proper Chinese accent – She keeps
mis-prounouncing her “L's” as “R's”

She keeps saying things like “Ssssso saaaad, to be arrrr arrrrone in dis worrrrld”

I realize that this is supposed to be a fun frothy romp, and every character is stereotyped to extreme measures…

Actual
Asian ethnic actors play the Asian roles and do NOT speak in bad
Chinese accents – but actually in good Cantonese.  The play makes fun
of the stereotypes…

But I still felt uncomfortable watching
the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in this way.  There are many
people in today's audience who don't realize the origins of such
stereotypes, nor the harm that was caused over decades of racism.

Check out what the Asian American theatre review had to say about the
two Chinese henchmen, singing “Mammy” in Chinese – originally sung by
Al Jolson, wearing a “black face” when he played a black man on stage.
http://www.aatrevue.com/Old/Millie.html

The original movie was made in 1967 starring Julie Andrews and Mary
Tyler Moore. Japanese-American actor comics Jack Soo and Pat Morita
played the Chinese henchmen. The Broadway musical debuted in 2002, with
the roles of the Chinese henchmen expanded. They only speak in proper
Chinese. It's the white actress playing a white woman who disguises Read Moreherself
as a pastiche of Asian stereotypes and accents. The purpose was to
“cleverly” make fun of racial stereotypes. Almost every character is
stereotyped to extremes in this post-modern Broadway musical.

It's
arguable that the perpetuation of stereotypes in any form is still
de-humanizing and destructive OR have we come far enough that we should
be able to recognize such stereotypes for what they are, and be able to
laugh at the stupidity and ridiculousness of the people who perpetuate
them?

The best use of “Clever” parodying of racial stereotypes was in Marty
Chan's “Mom, Dad, I'm Living With A White Girl.” The stereotypes take
place in the main character's dream about him mother and father
becoming a dragon lady and her loyal henchman. In this case, the
context is about racial and cultural stereotypes, and easily understood
by the Read Moreaudience.

But
in Millie, while the 2 Chinese characters are played very straight and
respectful, speaking in good cantonese, and humourously holding up
sheets of laundry for a clever display of “subtitles” – The fact
remains that they are still Chinese laundry workers, part of a “white
slavery” kidnapping operation.

The character of Mrs. Henessey
is still a white woman pretending to be Asian, by wearing a “painted
face”, speaking mixed up Asian accent, and perpetuating stereotypes.  Check out youtube portrayals of Mrs. Meers.
http://www.youtube.com/results?feature=moby&search_query=thoroughly+modern+millie+they+don%27t+know&search_type=&aq=0&oq=thoroughly+modern+millie+they+d

Otherwise – the cast is GREAT!
And
the lead who plays the title character Millie Dumont is Broadway
veteran, Vancouver born Diana Kaarina, half-Chinese and half-Finnish.

Other reviews

Vancouver Sun review: Millie shines in a show burdened by too much business

Georgia Straight: Thoroughly Modern Millie full of relentless enthusiasm

Gay Vancouver Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie is throughouly enjoyable | Theatre

REVIEW: “The C-Word” play is full of c-words: Chinese, Canadian, colou-blind, change, characters… “C” it for yourself!

What is the C-Word that is the meaning of life?



The C-Word cast
(Foreground, from left): Preet Cheema (Akesh Gill), Grace Chin (Kelly Cho), Sheryl Thompson (Ashley Hennessey).
(Background, from left): Fane Tse
(Steve Chung), Raahul Singh (Pal Prasad). Photo by Terry
Wong, courtesy of The C-word.


The C-Word
  April 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2009
written by Grace Chin


at the
Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island, Vancouver

The C-Word is an engaging play… even before you sit down in the seats.  What is the C-Word?  Is it for  Chinese?  Or the derogatory Chink word?  Does it mean Coloured?  Is it a four letter word that belongs below the belt?  One for male appendage, or for female anatomy?

Is the C-Word something more abstract, profound and perhaps “Complicated”?

Or is it “Compassion” or “Cheating”?

In the opening scene, “The Love Guru” is giving a seminar on how to get some action for his male clients.  Pal Prasad (played by Raahul Singh), gives a short talk about goals, and what it takes to follow through.  It's about intention and going after what you want.  It could be any personal development seminar, but this is about the C-word.

Next we meet girlfriends Kelly Cho and Akesh Gill played by Grace Chin and Preet Cheema.  They are on a shopping trip and talking about Kelly's upcoming wedding plans.  Soon we learn that Kelly has a live-in boyfriend named Steve Chung (Fane Tse) who is a yellow guy, while Akesh is single, but she doesn't like brown guys.

Things become complicated when Steve goes to see his old friend Pal to ask for some advice, and compare his relationship and impending marriage with Kelly to Pal's long term “open relationship” to a blonde woman named Ashley (Sheryl Thompsson).  What follows becomes an intercultural Vancouver-style dramedy of errors, innuendo, suppositions on the study of relationships. 

Excuse me… the proper words are cheating, commitment, compassion, change, comic and consolation – after all this is “The C-Word.”

“The C-Word” is the third play by Grace Chin.  Twisting Fortunes was co-written with her TF Productions partner Charlie Cho, and was a delightful comedic romp, set to Vancouver's caffeine drive.  “The Quickie“, Chin's first solo playwright experience, explored multicultural speed dating.  “The C-Word” goes to the next level, exploring a search for meaning in relationships.  This is Chin's most frank and sexual play to date, and hints at the darker sides of relationships and human nature, not to mention weddings.

In all three productions, Vancouver's multicultural society is the setting, but it is the intercultural nature of the characters where the culture clashes occur.  It's not just a Chinese-Canadian 2nd generation immigrant experience that is explored, but also South Asian this time around too.  And somehow this is juxtoposed with what might be mainstream Canadian or possibly alternative sexual lifestyles.

From the beginning, the characters are all interesting and engaging.  The topics are easily relateable to the audience… unless you don't have any friends of a different ethnicity, or have never dated.  The pacing is good, and the diaglogue never flags.

The casting all works.  Raahul Singh has fun being the egotistical “Love Guru” and his character makes reference to the Mike Myers movie.  More cultural references abound as character development exploration occurs when Kelly and Ashley try to figure each other out, and what their men may see in each other.  Here the extremely self-critical Kelly tries to get a handle on the brazen Ashely, she labels a “Samantha” compared to her “Miranda” – or is she really a Carrie Bradshaw?  Grace Chin actually displays a bit of each of the Sex in the City characters in her role of Kelly.

Much of the action revolves around Kelly and Pal, but while Steve's character seems stalled and doesn't give Fane Tse a big range to play with, Preet Cheema gets to push her character Akesh in the 2nd Act.  Supporting actors Lili Lau Cook and Vincent Cheng provide wonderfully surprising turns as Kelly's parents.  Mel Tuck directs this ensemble cast.

Previous productions



a take-out love story

an accidentally Asian romantic dramedy

Web: www.scriptingaloud.ca/cword

See previews in Review Vancouver and Vancouverplays.com.


Blogger Night at the Opera… Rigoletto gets thrown to the net surfers!

BLOGGERS RULE at the Vancouver Opera… Live Blogging for Rigoletto!

2009_March 007

Local Bloggers sat in the lobby during intermission, live blogging opening night at Rigoletto. (l-r) Monique Trottier “So Misguided”, Rebecca Bollwit “Miss 604″, Tanya “Netchick”, Kimli “Delicious Juice” – photo Todd Wong

Opera is one of the most intercultural art forms.  It forces its audience to listen to foreign languages, as it tells stories from different cultures.  Okay, it also presents a lot of stereotypes and racial chariactures too!  But today's productions will balance historic stereotypes with 21st Century sensitivity for cultural diversity.

Vancouver Opera has been one of the most innovative arts organizations to find new ways to market themselves, whether creating Manga comics for promotion, marketing to the Asian population base in Vancouver with the Voices of the Pacific Rim recital, or beginning live blogging with Carmen and now Rigoletto operas.

Opening Saturday Night at Vancouver Opera, there are lots of people dressed up in the finery.  The lineups are deep and long for the cappucinos or wine.  Over at the East side of the lobby, 6 bloggers sit madly typing into their laptop computers during intermission.  It's Live Blogging Night at the Opera.  It started with a few bloggers being invited to blog Carmen in January.  And now a few more have been invited to blog Rigoletto. 

Some of the audience members are curious.  Some are demanding.  Some are complaining about the sound in the balcony.  One audience member insists that they are not having a true opera experience unless they are drinking wine.  One of the bloggers writes that she is having sooo much fun people watching, she finds it hard to touch type at the same time.

I bring out my camera and ask the bloggers for a picture.  Actually I yell out, “Bloggers… smile for the camera!”

They all look up and smile.  I will post the picture laters…

I recognize Miss 604 Blogger, Rebbecca Bollwitt.  She recognizes me and writes on her blog that “We were just visited by Karen Hamilton of TinyBites.ca who is here to enjoy the show as well as Gung Haggis Fat Choy.

2009_March 009

Rebbecca Bollwit “Miss 604″, Todd Wong “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”, Tanya “Netchick” – photo A. Youngberg/T. Wong

Back on January 18th, she was live blogging the Canucks hockey game.  I comment that she probably wishes she was at the Canucks vs San Jose game.  She says “yeah.” 

It turns out that blogger
NetChick
is a rower, now interested in dragon boat paddling.  I tell her that my Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team has been featured on television documentaries for German and French public television, as well as the CBC.  It would be pretty cool, if she joined our dragon boat team… we have lots of opportunities for blogging.  Oops, I forgot to tell her we will have a parade entry in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

At the opera, it's always interesting to see who is there in the audience.  I spy an older couple, a male caucasian with an Asian woman.  They are always at major arts events.  I think he used to work at the CBC.

I chat with Doug Tuck, VOA Marketing and Selina Rajani, Communications/Media.  I introduce them to my date for the evening, Alexandra Youngberg, my CUPE 391 Vancouver Library workers president.  Alex loves this production of Rigoletto.  She loves music and sings in a choir.  Alex has even sung O Solo Mio, while I played my accordion.

The 2nd and 3rd Acts are wonderful ( I will write my formal review tomorrow).  Some members of the audience give a standing ovation to
Eglise Gutierrez who plays Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter.  We all stand up up for
Donnie Ray Albert who plays Rigoletto.  It's quite the multicultural cast.  Donnie Ray is African-American, born in Louisiana.  Eglise is born in Cuba.  Sam Chung, Chinese-Canadian born in Winnipeg, steps out of the Vancouver Opera chorus to play his first supporting role with Vancouver Opera in the role of Matteo Borsa. I congratulate Sam at the reception following.

During the reception, I also chat with Michael Mori, who is hapa Japanese-Canadian.  Kinza Tyrell, chorus master tells me how exciting this production is, and asks me how I know Sam and Michael.  “Well… through events at Joy Kogawa House, because we really supported, and raved about the Naomi's Road opera. 

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James Wright, VOA General Director congratulates the cast at the opening night reception – photo T. Wong

My old friend Walter Quan is here!  We first met back in 1986, while we were volunteers for the Salt Water City exhibit celebrating 100 years of Vancouver Chinatown history.  We recently had lunch in Victoria 2 weeks ago, when I had to return the life-size photos to the Royal BC Museum.

Opera Manager James Wright spots me, and waves at me.  So does orchestra concertmaster Mark Ferris, who along with his wife Gloria, have been friends for years. Mark performed at the 2004 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner. Meanwhile, the bloggers are noshing at the food tables, taking pictures of the event, and chatting amongst themselves.

I think it's great that Vancouver Opera is connecting with bloggers.  Back in December 2004, I blogged my own review of the VOA production of Madama Butterfly: Madama Butterfly Review: Vancouver Opera Nov 27 to Dec 11.

Since then, I have also reviewed:

Check out the opera night blogs:

Blogger Night: Rigoletto

REVIEW: Cock-Pit – Why Men Should watch men dance

Dance Review: Cock-Pit
Why men should watch men dance

special contribution by Devon Cooke

Wen-Wei Dance
Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie Street, Vancouver)
Feb. 24-28, 2009

I spent a fine Friday evening last week watching Cock-Pit, a suitably
suggestive and ambiguous title for Wen Wei Wang's equally suggestive
dance piece. It featured a woman and four scantily clad men, one of
whom was pointed out to me as “Scottie-too-Hottie” (my female companion
agreed). The show was highly enjoyable, funny at times, and poignant at
others. It was also highly sexual – a fact attested by the palpable
female enjoyment in the audience. As a man, I certainly enjoyed
listening to that audience, but I also enjoyed the performance.

Now, when a man admits to enjoying watching dance, and especially when
that dance involves highly muscled men strutting around in little more
than tight-fitting boxer shorts, there's one very natural question that
arises: Is he gay? Perhaps it's not so much a question as an
assumption, but, as a straight male, I'm here to tell you that while
that assumption may often hold true, straight men don't know what
they're missing when it comes to dance.

I must admit to being a little apprehensive going into the show about
how I would handle the “eww” factor (as in “eww, naked men!”), but my
worries were unfounded. The show was engaging, enlightening, and I
didn't feel like my sexuality was compromised. Why? Because I felt
myself empathizing with the men on stage rather than objectifying them.
Cock-pit is (among other things) an exploration of gender and,
especially, being male. As gender exploration goes, it's pretty
straightforward: The men are manly, the woman is womanly, and there's
barely the slightest hint that there might be any other way of
arranging things. While this might be a less than complete sketch of
gender, it does speak to the fairly rigid gender roles that most people
fall into, and it made me look at men (and myself) in a new light.

Watching Cock-pit was like watching a hockey game or playing poker
while consuming cold pizza and beer. It reminded me what it means to be
a man, but, unlike hockey or poker, it also gave me a sense of how
ridiculous we look to the other 51% of the population. I'm sure the
women in the audience had a different perspective.

I've never thought of feathers as being particularly male, but when
they're six feet long and stuck down the front of your pants, they're a
fairly obvious symbol. Cock-pit used this symbol to good effect, and
much of the comedy in the show came from painting a portrait of man's
endless obsession with his penis. With the help of the feathers, the
men in the show sword fight and show off, bargain and compete, and,
most of all, fight with each other for the attention of the lone female
dancer in the cast.

This oasis of femininity provided a sharp point of contrast to the
testosterone-laced energy in the rest of the dancers. Her presence
helped remind the audience that maleness exists in opposition to the
female – and provided a welcome place to rest my male-weary eyes. With
my heightened awareness of my masculinity, I found my eyes drawn
strongly to her whenever she was on stage, and her dancing made me
equally aware of the difference between our two genders.

There is much more to Cock-pit than simple gender differences. Many
sections were suggestive of birds (cocks of course) or insects, and one
particularly memorable scene had the four men negotiating a sale of
some sort using creative body language and a distinctly
Mandarin-sounding gibberish.  But, even these neutral scenes were cast
in the context of masculinity thanks to their relationship with the
rest of the choreography.

At
times Wen Wei's Chinese heritage showed through, and it was interesting
watching his five non-Chinese dancers absorb this and transform it in a
very Vancouver way.  The most obvious example was the Mandarin
gibberish I've already mentioned, but the use of feathers throughout
the piece had a very Chinese theatricality to it.  The feathers served
as swords, wings, antennae, and helped emphasize and exaggerate the
movement of whatever body part they happened to be attached to.

Cock-pit was a wonderfully creative and entertaining show, and, while
I've picked it apart for analysis here, its strengths lie in the talent
and energy of its dancers and choreographer, not the significance of
its theme. The dance is an exploration, not a theory, and it's worth
seeing for the feelings it evokes. For me, it evoked the thoughts about
maleness that you have just read, but my version is hardly the
definitive one. For that, you'll have to go see it for yourself…

Cock-pit played at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from February 24th to
28th. It featured David Raymond, Josh Martin, Scott Augustine, and
Edmond Kilpatrick, as well as lone female Alison Denham, and was
Choreographed by Wen Wei Wang.

Seattle Gung Haggis Fat Choy, Sunday February 15th.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy III in Seattle Washington: 200 strong and amazing!

2009_Gung_Haggis_Seattle 059 by you.

Todd Wong and Joe McDonald (centre), went down to Seattle on February 15th, to
take their manic Gung Haggis Rap south of the Canadian border. Here they stand with Red McWilliams (left) and Don Scobie (right), following an exciting Seattle program of Chinese lion dances, Scottish bagpipes, Chinese dancers, Highland dancers, and the Asian Youth Orchesta. – photo Deb Martin.

It was 5pm at Ocean City Restaurant in Seattle's International District, the day after Valentine's Day.  Where were you?  Todd Wong, Joe McDonald and Deb Martin, were still driving to Seattle after a 2 hour delay at the US Border.  They arrived about 6pm, as the Kenmore & District Pipe Band has just followed David Leong's Bellwon Martial Arts Lion dancers.

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Joe McDonald raps the Address to the Haggis, “An' legs and arms and heads will sned like taps of thrissle”, while Bill McFadden and Todd Wong look on – photo Deb Martin.

Bill McFadden, producer of Gung Haggis Fat Choy III in Seattle, set up a program that really featured Seattle's youth, by featuring the Melody Chinese dance Group, Karen Shelton Highland Dancers, and the Asian Youth Orchestra.

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Melody Dance Troupe, performs a fan dance – photo Todd Wong

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Young dancers performs the sword dance – photo T. Wong

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The Highland Fling – photo T. Wong

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Asian Youth Orchestra peforms drums – photo T. Wong

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After Emily's performance drew standing ovations, Todd Wong exclaimed “That song's not Chinese!” as Emily smiled.  “That song was Czardas, a Romanian song… I play that on my accordion.  What a wonderful display of technique by Emily!”

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Young Chinese drummers raise their arms in excitement at the end of their performance! – photo Todd Wong

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The Kenmore & District Pipe Band played to bring a rousing finale! photo Todd Wong