Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Scenes from a Yellow Peril
By Nathan Joe
Auckland Theatre Company
Auckland Waterfront Theatre
Until July 3
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Nathan Joe’s “Scenes from a Yellow Peril” is the latest in a very short list of plays about the experiences of contemporary Chinese in New Zealand. The playwright, Nathan Joe notes that for some time he had avoided writing about being Asian but there had been an underlying need for him to write something and so the play is, as he says, “the result of all those feelings of internalised racism slowly being corrected.”
The result is a thoughtful snapshot of clashing cultures – alternately comic, poignant, anguished and angry in a condensed contemporary history of assimilation, along with the complexities of communication.
The sub-title of the play is “Scenarios for the Assimilated Asian” and the work consists of fourteen scenes in which five actors address issues around ethnicity, racism, colonisation and cultural displacement.
They explore the personal, social and cultural dimensions of these issues under various titles such as “ A Short History of Humiliation”, “Love in a Time of Colonisation’, “How to End Racism” and “They Shoot Chinese Don’t They”.
The actors speak of the European perspective of Asians and the comic aspects of being Asian in New Zealand today. They also speak of the bewilderment and hurt of everyday events and the pressure to adapt and conform. But, at the heart of the play is the anger against the system and the oppression. Here, pure rage is distilled, displaying the anger of reacting to the stereotypes.
The play opens gently enough with the Director of the play Jane Yonge interviewing each of the cast in a game show format where we learn about the range of their East Asian ethnicities – Chinese, Korean Singaporean, Japanese Fijian/Indian, along with their various careers. After that the cast embark on a dissection of the issues.
The dozen scenes are delivered in a range of styles – panel discussion, poetry, polemic, stand-up comedy, cabaret and game show. This all creates something of a Chinese banquet – a mix of sweet and sour, some spicey morsels as well as some bland bits
Each of these scenes explores a different dimension so that in “You Often Masturbate”, the characters muse on looking for Asian porn and the fraught feelings and reactions of engaging with it, the confusing sense of liberation and guilt at finding Asian porn and the reflecting on whether this is “exotic”.
One of the standout performances is Louise Jiang in the ”Decolonise The Body. We are All Meatsacks” segment where she gives a scorching delivery with her long poetic monologue of almost operatic dimensions, culminating in a ferocious dance routine.
Nathan Joe gives some eloquent deliveries notably his ”sorry for being sorry” speech about making the audience feel guilty as the huge red curtain slowly descends on him in the final moments of the play. Amanda Grace Leo does a fine comic turn in “I Cannot invite my Parents to My Play.”
Uhyoung Choi, and Angela Zhang all give spirited performances and the three-piece band of Rhohil Kishore, J Y Lee and Daniel Mitsure McKenzie provide a well-judged accompaniment composed by Sound Designer and Composer Kenji Iwamitsu-Holdaway.
The cast are dressed in strangely enveloping costumes which are a combination of traditional Asian monks, and straightjackets and they seem to be constrained by what they are wearing so they seem to be metaphorically limited by both historical and contemporary cultures.
Production Highlight from Scenes from a Yellow Peril at
(Video Credits: Videographers Julie Zhu & Isaiah Tour, Editing/Postproduction Calvin Sang, Eyes and Ears)