Comfort weaves a horrific, beautiful tale with poetry and music for Toronto audiences
Red Snow Collective’s production of Comfort (playing at Aki Studio) is a lyrical, creatively staged, and outright heartbreaking drama about love and resilience in a time of horror and atrocity. I was spellbound by the complex storytelling and moving performances; this was a play that I will never forget.
Comfort is based on the true historical story of the thousands of “comfort women” — Korean, Chinese, Filippina, and others — brutally enslaved into forced prostitution by the Japanese army during WWII. As the previous sentence suggests, this play goes to some very dark places, but I loved the way it also cherishes the power of language to keep culture and human dignity alive.
The plot primarily follows Li Dan Feng (powerfully portrayed by Vicki Kim) and her love interest Zhou Ping Yang (Jeff Yung). Structurally, Comfort is divided in half: the first hour takes place before the outbreak of war, and the second hour follows the characters’ fortunes during the war. As my friend Pam pointed out, there is a marked change in tone between the two acts, but the contrast works nicely. We were both so absorbed in the play we couldn’t believe how quickly the first act went by.
I was a little unclear on the details of the history between Li Dan Feng and Zhou Ping Yang — how long have they known each other for, exactly? — and I found it slightly unbelievable that Li would run away to Shanghai to fight the Japanese, but these small details did not interfere at all with my experience of the play.
Although I was appalled at Li’s terrible treatment at the hands of the soldiers (Oliver Koomsatira and Timothy Ng), I was profoundly moved by her resilience and the resilience of the women around her (Jen Hum and Vania Chan). I thought Zhang Mei Ling (Pheobe Hu) and her monologue about making Chinese pancakes was especially powerful. Overall, Comfort grapples with its difficult content in a way that I feel is very relevant to what are, in my opinion, increasingly dark political times.
In terms of the writing, I loved the poetic style of Comfort. The presence of the Cormorant and the Moon (both played by the dynamic and remarkably agile Oliver Koomsatira) added an element of magical realism that felt true to the spirit of Chinese legends, and added some moments of levity.
I also greatly enjoyed the use of movement and choral effects as storytelling tools. The powerful performances in Comfort were accompanied and enhanced by live music (played by Patty Chan, Cathy Nosaty, and Brandon Miguel Valdiva, and composed by Constantine Caravassilis). I especially loved the moments that showcased the erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument; to me, there is no sound more exquisite and lonely.
Immediately after the play, there was a brief but highly enjoyable Q&A with Comfort director William Yong, playwright Diana Tso, composer Constantine Caravassilis, and cast members Vicki Kim and Pheobe Hu. As he came onstage for the Q&A, director William Yong was wiping tears from his eyes. To be honest, so was I.
- Comfort is playing until December 10, 2016 at the Aki Studio of Native Earth Performing Arts (585 Dundas Street East; inside the Daniels Spectrum Building)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Saturdays at 2pm
- Ticket prices are $28 for general admission, $20 for arts workers, and $15 for students. Tuesdays are PWYC. Tickets can be purchased online, through the box office at 416-531-1402, or at the door
- Production uses a fog effect.
Photo of Oliver Koomsatira, Jeff Yung, and Vicki Kim by Dahlia Katz.