After being spoiled by the likes of Harvey, The Women, and The Ideal Husband at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival, and Fela! on Broadway, I expected some saturation to my neutral slate of critique prior to the more local, up and coming piece at the Hamilton Fringe Festival – The Boat People. And thankfully, I was wrong.
Not to say that The Boat People is on the same scale as the age-old tales of the Shaw Festival, rather it felt like the classmate you knew growing up who’s just about to make it big. And boy, I really hope this play makes it big. Because after watching old English and American tales of Shaw to the politically and musically charged vibe of Manhattan’s Fela!, I was in an immediate search for a theatrical performance that adheres to the Asian community with potential to really make a mark.
What started off as a short 15-minute performance at York University’s playGround in 2009, Sylvia Vuong evolved The Boat People into a strong hour-long piece debuting at a the Hamilton Fringe Festival. It was everyone’s debut in many ways, but due to Jeff Yung’s direction, the cast seemed to be at ease even when juggling multiple characters. Jasmine Chen and Kathy Huynh-Phan, who played the two daughters Amy and Ngoc, established a notable sisterly connection right from the start during Amy’s controversial confession. Well, controversial in their father’s eyes anyway. Asian tradition and stereotypes complimented each other in the father-role, Tuan, played by Miquelon Rodriguez. The character’s history was told in flashbacks to his time back in Vietnam during the war, which still haunts him, causing struggles between him and his family. The performance to look out for was definitely the mother, Trang, played by Danielle Ayow, who successfully portrayed her character budding through the years of the narrative. And of course, to top it all off, there was the ever-hilarious Andrew Kim providing needed comic relief to this touching immigrant tale.
Rest assured that I do not have a background of theater nor am I in any position to critique it, but this is a play that is worth a lot of praise. Adding to that, I have the bias of being able to relate to the Asian immigrant tale due to my “Banana” nature. Also my friends were part of the play. Biases are always frolicking about. Nonetheless, this is a play to seriously look out for, regardless of ethnicity or other questionable partialities.
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