A Song for Tomorrow (New Harlem Productions & Eventual Ashes) 2012 SummerWorks Review

A Song for Tomorrow, playing as part of the 2012 SummerWorks Performance Festival, is playwright Christina Wong’s ode to her parents as well as a look at the immigrant experience.

The play opens on an old Chinese-Canadian couple, Ping (Jeff Yung) and May (Jasmine Chen). They bicker, argue, accuse each other of being “cold hearted” and can barely stand to be in the same room together. 

The story then moves backward in time in steps and we see Ping and May at progressively earlier phases of their relationship; each rewind reveals additional layers and adds context to their relationship.

I could definitely see a lot of my own parents reflected in May and Ping; the traditional Asian values of self-sacrifice and the sense of familial duty as well as the struggle to adapt to a new country and different culture.

Like Wong’s parents, my parents also immigrated to Canada from China and Hong Kong in the 1960s. Back then the country was a much different place; not as open and accepting for new immigrants as it is now. Subsequently, my parents never felt they could fully integrate into Canadian society and became very insular. To this day they absolutely rely on each other and live in their own little world.

I see these same qualities in May and Ping who never felt they could truly take full advantage of their adopted home country and choose to stay together for reasons of comfort and a sense of duty perhaps sacrificing happiness. For example, despite living most of her adult life in Toronto, May has never gone up the CN Tower, even though she has always wanted to. It’s a heartbreaking metaphor.

The performances are exceptional. Despite being young actors, Chen and Yung convincingly embody the elderly May and Ping and completely channel the mannerisms of older first-generation Chinese immigrants.

Stylistically, the show makes impressive use of the tiny Passe Muraille Backspace and director Gein Wong’s background in video art is apparent; she effectively employs stylized projections throughout the production.

A Song for Tomorrow is more character than plot-driven. A lot of the story is told impressionistically. Subsequently, it does feel meandering at times and I thought the pacing could be tightened. Though culturally accurate, the stoicism of the two characters sometimes makes the play feel emotionally distant.

While I could directly relate to it I’m also concerned that it’s so culturally specific that much of the play may be inaccessible to somebody who doesn’t share the same background. I’m left wondering whether the play would speak to a broader audience and what it would say.

Regardless, A Song for Tomorrow is often poetic and there are many little moments of beauty that make it worthwhile.

Details:

  • A Song for Tomorrow plays at Venue D: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
  • Show times: Sat. August 11, 2:00 PM; Sun. August 12, 7:00 PM; Mon. August 13, 9:30 PM; Thurs. August 16, 7:00 PM; Fri. August 17, 2:00 PM; Sat. August 18, 4:30 PM; Sun. August 19, 11:30 AM
  • All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://ticketwise.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
  • Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows


Photo by Gein Wong