A Treasure Trove for Theatre Lovers

Reviewed by Gordon Gamlin

Nina Lee Aquino’s collection is an important resource for teachers and thespians alike. Students of Asian Canadian Drama especially may consider these twelve thoughtfully selected plays as required reading. In the first volume they are featured in chronological order from 1982 to 2002: Yellow Fever by R.A. Shiomi, Bachelor-Man by Winston Christopher Kam, Maggie’s Last Dance by Marty Chan, Mother Tongue by Betty Quan, Noran Bang: The Yellow Room by M.J. Kang, and The Plum Tree by Mitch Miyagawa. The second collection begins with works from 2002: Yes Yoko Solo by Jean Yoon, Tiger of Malaya by Hiro Kanagawa, Miss Orient(ed) by Nina Lee Aquino and Nadine Villasin, China Doll by Marjorie Chan, Banana Boys by Leon Aureus, and paper SERIES by David Yee.

In her introduction, Aquino shares her process of selection and we catch a glimpse of canon-formation at its origin. In compiling the initial list of plays, she was attentive to history, geography, and a balanced representation of the Asian Diaspora. A communal effort next brought together some of those working in the field to hold script readings and discussions to assess the merits of the assembled corpus. The result is an anthology of stylistically diverse Asian Canadian works over three decades that highlight Canada’s regional diversity as much as the distinct communities of those who live here. Directors will find everything they may expect from gifted playwrights to help these plays come alive before their audiences. Look forward to engaging storylines, crisp dialogue, clear stage directions, strong characters, and, above all, profound insights into life in Canada from Asian Canadian points of view.

The first volume invites you to accompany private eye Sam Shikaze in a comedy mystery on Vancouver’s Powell Street. Meet reincarnations of the legendary Monkey-King in Toronto’s Chinatown. Mingle with attendees at a Prairie high school reunion to relive past follies at an experienced age. Listen to a Vancouver girl who is the only interpreter between her younger deaf brother and her widowed Chinese mother. Witness a Torontonian Korean family’s emotional self-discovery after the passing of their revered grandmother. Visit a berry farm in Mission, British Columbia, where an activist in the Japanese Canadian Redress movement comes to terms with questions of ownership, justice, and history.

In the second volume you are invited to lose yourself at the Art Gallery of Ontario in another woman’s transformational multimedia vision of The Yoko Ono Project. Witness an American legal defense team struggle as the Tiger of Malaya faces military justice in Manila. Enter the world of a Canadian Filipino beauty pageant in Montreal to encounter conflicting cultural ideals of beauty. Read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House a hundred years ago in Shanghai and encounter a new world. Join five men as their friendship reveals unexpected identity conflicts within their own generation. Hear the voices of recent childhood and adolescence in Toronto and look to the future. Already, these plays have been performed widely and stand as a record of accomplishments of the Asian Canadian Drama movement. Only one question remains. When can we look forward to the third volume in this series?

This review “A Treasure Trove for Theatre Lovers” originally appeared in New Work on Early Canadian Literature. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 213 (Summer 2012): 159.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.