2017 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Silk Bath (Silk Bath Collective)

Photo of Amanda Zhou in Silk Bath
If there was ever a way to capture the sprawling, intimidating, racist, and limiting nature of the Canadian immigration system, I don’t think you are going to find anything better than The Silk Bath Collective’s Silk Bath playing at the Factory Theatre Studio as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Attempting to enter The Nation, four Chinese immigrants must compete in a gameshow. Winner gets their citizenship, the losers die. While “Photo Girl” (Bessie Cheng, also the playwright) is hopeful and “Hong Kong” (Dorcas Chiu) is savvy, the game is really between “Old Woman” (Amanda Zhou), who has an uncanny grasp of the non-existent rules, and “Mutt” (En Lai Mah), a biracial man playing the game for the second time.

It is simultaneously terrifying, hilarious, and viciously on-point.

Playwright Cheng and Aaron Jan (who directed) — with the help of Gloria Mok— eschew the obligations of feeding their audience every little detail. Sometimes there are subtitles helpfully projected for those who only speak English, meanwhile other conversations exist entirely in the context of a given scene.

“Old Woman” and “Hong Kong” having an argument about escaping is staged to isolate the lone English speaker “Mutt”. You don’t need the details of what they’re saying. Jan’s direction shows you; Zhou and Chiu imply it with their body language.

No stone is left unturned between these four characters. I don’t want to diminish the genius or complexity of the work here, but it so clearly and simply calls out bureaucratic and systemic issues that I just want to cheer.

Silk Bath refuses to hold hands. At first, there’s a smattering of light humour best embodied by “Mutt” as he purposefully styles himself using offensive stereotypes while voicing his contempt for them. Slowly, these bits are placed into more and more off-putting situations, a car accident, a woman on a date: it becomes unbearable.

Nothing builds slowly here. The actors can both see and not see the audience, and when the ending comes…wow.

It’s such a painful, strong statement. I loved it. Even though I came out horrified, I just want to watch it all over again. Silk Bath is a reflection of Canada no one likes to see and it is the best. Smart, new, and a fresh breath of air.


Photo of Amanda Zhou by Alfred Chow