An immigrant Chinese couple invite their son’s caucasian boyfriend to visit, in order to come to terms with their son’s suicide. The son had never come out to his parents and they had never met the “roommate” so this was going to make for an interesting ride. And it delivers.
The visit starts with perfunctory friendly small talk between the boyfriend and the mother, while the audience eagerly waits for two things to happen. 1) the arrival of the father, who is upstairs “fixing pipes”, and 2) the conversation to get deep. The grumpy, stoic father arrives and we immediately realized that the boyfriend has his work cut out for him. But he appears to have an ally in the mother, so not all hope is lost.
The boyfriend, Matt, who is superbly acted by the beautiful and angelic Stephen Tracey, doesn’t take long to start the rollercoaster, “Why wasn’t I invited to the funeral?”. And we’re off. For the first half of the play we are treated to a well-written conversation/argument with the parents craving to know more about their son from Matt, and vice-versa. To seasoned goers-to-gay-theatre, the relationship between questioning parents and their upbringing of a gay son may seem a road well traveled, however the exploration in GA TING is ethno-infused, and takes unexpected turns making it highly original. All three characters are revealed to have significant strengths, flaws, and vulnerabilities. It’s always a sign of good play when you find yourself switching allegiances back and forth throughout the dialogue. This starts to happen more and more in the second half as emotions ramp up.
Adding to the originality is the Cantonese. The parents usually speak to each other in Cantonese, so subtitles are projected to translate. But sometimes there is no translation, helping us empathize with Matt, briefly not really knowing what is being discussed. Some of the staging is wonderful, particularly when boxes of memories are opened and we are transported back to these pivotal events – particularly when the father plays the part of the son. Less impressive were the shower curtain-like backdrop and being able to see the computer screens backstage.
All of the acting here is very strong. Loretta Yu and Richard Tse play the parents so well, revealing multiple facets of their characters, while Stephen Tracey insures there isn’t a weak moment in between. Personally, I love “a stranger comes to visit” theatre, and this is one that delivers on so many fronts, it’s not to be missed.
GA TING, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St, Toronto, Till Jan 20th, 2019