David Yee’s Acquiesce examines themes which affect us all, on stage at Toronto’s Factory Theatre
Factory Theatre kicked off its 2016/17 season on Thursday with Acquiesce by David Yee. If it’s any indicator, the rest of the season is going to be fabulous. It has everything you could want in a play. Terrific writing, engaging characters, an interesting plot, excellent acting, and impressive direction. Can you tell that my friend Elaine and I really loved it?
It’s worth taking a minute to read Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino’s description of Factory’s themed 2016/17 season, Beyond the Great White North – Six Plays Charting New Canadian Experiences. In the Artistic Director’s Note in the playbill she says “It is exactly what this whole season is about; straddling two worlds (maybe even three), negotiating where home is, and redefining who we are as ‘Canadians’. These themes may be familiar to all of us but the container is different, we get to see another point of view, and from that we can collectively redefine home.”
And the themes are familiar; the death of a parent, estrangement, getting to know extended family, familial obligation, many of the things we all face as we discover and come to terms with who we are and how we live our lives.
Sin Hwang (played by David Yee) is the first generation son of a Chinese father (played by John Ng). Sin is a novelist with writer’s block, his girlfriend Nine (Rosie Simon) has left him, and he’s been estranged from his father for years. When his father dies he doesn’t intend to go to the funeral but his cousin Kai (played by Richard Lee) in Hong Kong sends him a ticket and asks him to bring urgent important documents for the funeral. So Sin goes.
The story is told in the present in Hong Kong and in flashback in Toronto. Director Nina Lee Aquino used one half of the stage for the Hong Kong parts and the other for the Toronto parts which made it easier to follow.
Robin Fisher’s set and Michelle Ramsay’s lighting produce an austerely beautiful set, with six or seven rectangular pillars, some upright and some on an angle. The spotlights were also rectangular, echoing the angularity of the pillars.
Yee’s script is excellent. The dialogue is natural and the interaction between his characters is true to life, two things I like. Parts of the play are heartrending but other parts are very funny and sometimes it switches from one to the other unexpectedly. For the most part, the characters are well developed and believable, though the girlfriend character felt rather one dimensional.
When Sin arrives in Hong Kong he’s met by Kai, an engineer obsessed with venerating his late father and with men’s skin care products. Kai is horrified to learn that Sin doesn’t speak Cantonese and doesn’t want to deliver the eulogy at his father funeral.
Lee and Yee work well together; Yee’s Sin becoming less brooding and resentful and Lee’s Kai becoming more understanding as they learn about each others fathers and come to trust each other. As strong as all of the performances were, my favourite was Lee as Kai, slowly unbending and letting himself show emotion.
I liked that there was no easy answer, no happy ending. Sin goes back to Toronto, a bit less angry and understanding more about his father and maybe a bit about himself. But there’s no guarantee that he won’t repeat his father’s mistakes.
Acquiesce was very satisfying. There were parallels to things that are happening in my life and questions that I’m trying to answer. That makes it sounds like a self-help evening. Not at all. It was a very entertaining play. I highly recommend that you see it.
- Acquiesce is playing at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until November 27th
- Showtimes are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
- Tickets $20 – $25 and are available online, by phone at 416-504-9971, and in person at the box office
Photo of Richard Lee and David Yee by Dahlia Katz