Review: Gravity astounds the senses – Tricia Collins takes the audience on a journey into her past and across two oceans

Review:  Gravity astounds the senses – Tricia Collins takes the audience on a journey into her past and across two oceans

Chapel Arts
304 Dunley St.
Oct 25 – Nov 3, 2007

It seems like a very Vancouver thing to be from somewhere else, to live in two cultures, and to share your family story, and to do it artistically.  But Tricia Collins is all of this and more.  Both she and her self-penned one-woman theatrical show Gravity are “very Vancouver.”

Tricia Collins is “hapa.”  Her mother’s family came from Guyana, and from China before that.  Tricia is an actor, a  writer and an amazing performer/story teller.  She also does acrobatic work while hanging suspended from cloth draping… and speaking in a lucious juicy Caribbean accent.  This is one smart talented agile woman who can capture your attention…. and hold it for a long, long time.Gravity is a multi-media theatrical work based on similarities in her
family history.  But Collins takes it much much further.  While images of knitting or maps are projected onto the wall, Collins tells the multi-generational story of 4 women.  The stories travel through and co-exist in time… and fall through time. 

When you first walk into Chapel Arts, on Dunlevy and Cordova, it feels different.  The last time I was in the building had been for the funeral of my grandmother’s brother, at least 15 years ago.  The former Armstrong Funeral Home has now been converted to an arts centre.  My grand-uncle Henry had worked for many years at Armstrong, and the building was packed to over flowing.  He had been a well-known community figure and had played and important role of helping to bring up his 13 younger brothers and sisters.  They were all born in Canada, grandchildren of Rev. Chan Yu Tan. 

It’s fitting that I now back in this building where I am attending a theatre work based on the family history of Tricia Collins.  Hers is also a story about the Chinese diaspora coming to Canada.  But her story comes by way of Guyana on the Caribbean coast of South America, where the Chinese worked as replacement labourers after the African slaves had been set free.

The chapel has now been turned into a black box theatre room with chairs set up on two sides of the room.  White sand is in the middle of the stage floor, with small lights in a large
circle.  Theatrical fog hovers over the floor, as fish netting hangs beside one wall, and a large wooden box is in the back corner.  Calypso music plays faintly in the background.   I got the feeling that something special is going to happen.

The house lights dim and Tricia Collins walks to the centre of the stage floor.  She explains to
the audience that her name is Maya, and she is working on her Ph.D. thesis and trying to help
counter the flooding in her family’s ancestral home of Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana.  A screen projection shows on the wall her project, and a map of Guyana, showing its location between Venezuela and Suriname.  A voice whispers…. words appear on the screen… and the storytelling magic begins.

Tricia Collins has created a riveting piece of work that interweaves the tale of her mother, her Granny Ling, and her mother before her, who was kidnapped from China and sold in Guyana, after being shipped in a crate across the ocean.  We learn about the hopes and dreams of each woman, and how they deal with the challenges that they find themselves in. Collins plays each of the women, as she simultaneously tells stories about them, in an attempt to unravel the mystery that binds them together, while pulling them apart.

Gravity is what creates the dynamic tension as Collins tells her story as she twists around, suspended in the cloth drapes. It is a unique visual device that I am more accustomed to seeing in Chinese acrobatic shows, modern dance or Cirque Du Soleil.  Collins moves smoothly, her foot deftly wrapping the cloth around her calves or ankles, or her hands wrapping the cloth into a bundle that becomes a baby as she gently rocks it.

The lighting design by James Proudfoot, video and installation by Cindy Mochizuki, stage  management by David Kerr, and direction by Maiko Bae Yamamoto are fantastic.

“This was the dream team,” Yamamoto repeated several times during the opening night  reception as we talked about the production. “They created all lighting and projections  specifically for this space.  James just lets the space talk to him and tell him what it needs.”

Gravity has been developed in several stages, and this is it’s most complete.  At times Collin’s character Maya interacts directly with the audience, talking as if presenting a lecture or at point – touching the arm of an audience member.  Other times, she is acting out scenes while telling her stories, oblivious to the audience.  Sound, projection, lighting, and Collin’s expressions, voices and movements complement each other on cue. This is an exciting production and well worth seeing, and telling your friends.

see a promotional video of Gravity: an interview with Tricia Collins about Gravity


Here is what Colin Thomas wrote in the Georgia Straight about Gravity:
Heart of City finds centre of Gravity | Tricia Collins’s one-woman show Gravity explores ideas of love, poverty, and race through her own family history, which stretches back to Guyana and China.


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