Silk Bath, mounted by Silk Bath Collective, is a chillingly powerful Toronto Fringe Festival debut with its own original take on things like reality television and futuristic dystopias. Currently playing at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace, this hour-long show forces its audience to consider the dilemma of four immigrants forced to fight for a place in their new country via a reality show competition.
As Silk Bath‘s four characters try to secure their futures, resigned to accepting crude stereotypes and incomprehensible rules, what will they be forced to do for our benefit? This glimpse into a too-plausible future is excellent theatre: disorienting, unsettling, provocative.
Silk Bath is the first show of the Silk Bath Collective, bringing together three playwrights–Bessie Cheng, Aaron Jan and Gloria Mok–with a shared interest in examining issues of representation in Canada. This show has two goals: dealing with issues of representation, and creating theatre accessible to non-traditional audiences. Silk Bath does both.
One particularly notable element of Silk Bath is its performance in Mandarin and Cantonese, with English definitely being the third language. This multilingual performance is made to work well for people who aren’t fluent in either Chinese language. Translations of the difference performers’ dialogue appear seamlessly on an adjacent projection screen, while the performers themselves convey a surprising amount with their gestures and the patterns of their speech. The entire performance space, delivered by stage manager/lighting director Logan Cracknell and projection/sound designer Kevin Feliciano, was very well-designed.
Silk Bath‘s four performers and devisers were uniformly strong. Playwright Cheng’s New Girl, pathetically eager to master the arcane rules of her new prison and to survive to reach freedom her new homeland, provides the audience with a powerful introduction. Equally unforgettable is En Lai Mah’s Mutt with his angry sarcasm and bitter embrace of the anti-Asian stereotypes forced on him, and the desperate energy of Dorcas Chiu’s Clementine with her beloved tree and desperate search for a way out. Amanda Zhou’s performance as Old Lady was particularly strong, as the quietest of the four contestants, the one of the four tapped in this prison for the longest time, and the most desperate to escape. It was very easy for the audience to connect with any of these characters, or with all of them: these were real, recognizable people caught in an unendurable scenario.
Silk Bath is fantastic theatre. One of three projects to receive funding this year from the TD Culturally Diverse Artist Project, Silk Bath is proof that non-traditional theatre aimed at a non-traditional audience can be a general success. Anyone who is interested in the ways that we organize our country and our world, who belongs and who does not, or anyone who is interested in theatre that meets its lofty goals, should see it.
- Silk Bath is playing until July 9 at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. (30 Bridgman Avenue)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Graphic Violence, Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- This performance is accessible for non-English speakers (Mandarin, Cantonese).
- June 29th at 8:45 pm
- July 2nd at 9:45 pm
- July 4th at 4:30 pm
- July 5th at 1:15 pm
- July 7th at 9:15 pm
- July 8th at 4:15 pm
- July 9th at 8:00 pm
Photo of Bessie Cheng.