Michelle Law’s sweet and sour tale of the Wong Family will make you want to dance on tabletops and cry in the foetal position to the tune of lady power anthems.
Note: Production photos portray Michelle Law as Zoe in the Brisbane Season. The Melbourne production will feature Jing Xuan Chan.
Single Asian Female smashes a lot of things: monocultural Australian playwriting, the patriarchy, and box office sales. After a stunning Brisbane season at La Boite Theatre Company, the Golden Phoenix restaurant run by the Wong family is heading south to settle in for a season at The Arts Centre Melbourne.
Single Asian Female smashes a lot of things: monocultural Australian playwriting, the patriarchy, and box office sales.
As the name suggests, this piece explores singledom, the play beginning with mother Pearl Wong (Hsiao-Ling Tang) standing on a table in her restaurant, newly divorced and happy, proclaiming “There is such a thing as a vibrator!” to the whoops and squeals of the packed audience. Zoe (Jing Xuan Chan), a concert violist, is battling the pressure to settle down and the online dating scene, while her little sister Mei (Courtney Stewart) is still sorting out the whole first kiss thing. Asian, part two of the title, tackles high school bullying, “yellow fever” and immigration complications. Finally, Female. This play is driven by women. Feminine energy is at the heart of Single Asian Female, with women authoring, directing and making up 80% of the cast. A play about family of three women — three Asian women — depicting first generation Australians complications in an unapologetic way is political by its very being.
Similarly, it is wonderful by its very being, Beyond the melancholy of the Wong’s predicament, the outrageous gags make this play go a mile a minute, actors Hsiao-Ling Tang, Jing Xuan Chan and Courtney Stewart bouncing off one another, creating a hilariously realistic depiction of mother-daughter-sister relationships. Each of them has complex narratives that aren’t dependent on their Single, Asian or Female status, but are enhanced by their titular traits. They navigate these storylines with a mix of wit and heartfelt dialogue that could only have been crafted by the gem that is Michelle Law.
Each of them has complex narratives that aren’t dependent on their Single, Asian or Female status, but are enhanced by their titular traits.
I could sing the praises of Single Asian Female’s family trio for forever and a day. However, I want to take some time to acknowledge the supporting actors. I have never seen an audience swoon more than when Paul (Patrick Jhanur) first appeared on stage. Think Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, but as an immigration lawyer with a man bun and respectful Tinder date etiquette. Yeah. Swoon. Emily Burton brings the house down as Katie; if the Matilda’s gave out an award for Best Delivery of a Line, “please don’t kick me in the vagina,” would win every time. Fresh QUT Acting graduate Tatum Mottin is claiming her place in the Australian theatre scene. She expertly portrays high school mean girl, Lana, as well as a smattering of other roles. Every woman knows a Lana, she conjures up memories of a specific girl from my high school, and she’ll conjure memories of a girl from yours too.
The most notable thing about Single Asian Female is the audience reaction. Laughter reverberates of the theatre walls; audible gasps can be heard in the devastating climactic scene. Theatre-goers dance to the Nutbush in the interval. The fact that director Claire Christian’s laugh can be noticeably heard in the crowd attests to the comedic genius of this play. She’s heading into her fourth season and she finds it as funny as the first opening night — if that doesn’t show you that this play is a ripper I don’t know what will. During my viewing, I glanced to my right and saw a young Asian woman about the age of sixteen, and her expression was glowing. I thought about my experience as a white woman, I see glimpses of myself in theatre five times less than I see representation of men, but the woman next to me sees herself five times less than I do. As amazing as this play was for me, you could see it was life-changing for her. Representation is everything, and Single Asian Female pulls a hat trick.
Laughter reverberates of the theatre walls; audible gasps can be heard in the devastating climactic scene.
To my Melbourne readers, if you go every night as Claire will, or whether you go just once, go and see Single Asian Female. Whether you are single, Asian, female, all or none of the above, you will fall in love with this play and have your heart broken.