Review: Eating With Lola (Sulong Theatre)

Eating With Lola; a play with puppets at Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop & benefit for Brave New Girls

The first thing that caught my eye about Sulong Theatre’s Eating With Lola when I saw the event listing was that it was “directed by The Puppetmongers’ Ann Powell.” I like puppets.

I also saw that it is a benefit run for an organization called Brave New Girls which helps queer women recover from trauma. I found no real information on what the story was about, but puppets-plus-good-cause was enough to raise my interest.

The narrative is the life story of Lola, a Filipino woman who married a spy for the American forces during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, and thus was allowed to immigrate to the U.S. with her family. In the current day Lola lays dying in the care of an unnamed woman, a single mother, who seems to perhaps be Lola’s granddaughter. Lola’s passion in life was cooking and even in her moribund state she tortures her caretaker with criticism of the food she is served.

My companion and I weren’t sure of the relationship between the two, nor were we sure why the old woman’s name seemed to change from Rufina to Lola. Afterwards I read the press release which clarified both issues: “Lola” means “grandmother” in Filipino.

The show is lovely but I had a significant problem enjoying it as I couldn’t see 80% of the action. The venue is the third floor space of Glad Day Bookshop, where I have been many times for literary and variety events. Those events were successful because the performers were standing. Eating With Lola is a show played primarily on the floor, and the performer (and playwright) Catherine Hernandez spent most of the time on her knees. The Glad Day space isn’t raked, so unless you were in the first row it was difficult to see anything. I’m only five foot four but my companion is five-seven and she also had trouble.

There’s a very easy solution to this: use a table and perform standing up. Not only would the whole audience be able to see, but then Hernandez wouldn’t have had to wear knee pads to protect her joints.

Other than that, Hernandez’ performance is quite compelling. Her voice changes from that of an old, dying, Filipino-accented lady, to that of an exasperated North American young mother, to that of a southern lady-who-lunches, on a dime, and never loses intensity.

Lola is the only puppet. Other than her grandaughter, played by Hernandez herself, everyone else is portrayed by simple props that Hernandez manipulates, such as a hat or a pair of sunglasses. Yet each character is distinct and utterly believable.

Another great thing about this production is that they are trying to take accessibility into account. They are live-streaming the Saturday January 19 matinee for people who cannot make it up the stairs of the venue. They will also provide the script upon request for anyone with a hearing disability.

This play has a lot going for it. I recommend seeing it, on the condition that you arrive early enough to snag a seat in the front row.

Details

  • Eating With Lola runs until January 26th at the Glad Day Bookshop, 598A Yonge Street
  • Shows are Thursday to Saturday at 9 pm and Saturdays also have a 2 pm matinee
  • Tickets are $10 available online or at the door