Review: Banana Boys (Factory Theatre)

The hit show Banana Boys returns to the Factory Theatre stage in Toronto

Banana Boys is currently making its triumphant return to the Factory Theatre stage. Originally developed by the fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company in 2002, the show is now one of the most culturally relevant modern plays currently in production.

The show itself is a fast paced, witty, and at times raunchy look at what it means to be a “banana” — a cultural term indicating someone who is ‘yellow on the outside and white on the inside’. A displaced Asian with roots in the East but born and raised in the West. From the perspective of five young Chinese-Canadian men, they explore their struggles with career, education, love, friendship, identity, and the ever present pressure from mom and dad.

Banana Boys started life as a book, an award-winning novel by Terry Woo published in 2000. The book’s relevancy was immediately evident, providing voice to those on the bridge between cultures. Adapting it to the stage seemed the next logical step and the performance that fu-GEN has created is vibrant and funny.

This current production is the sixth time that Banana Boys has seen the Toronto stage and it has been a show that I’ve been eager to see for a few years. Personally, I resonate with the subject matter for various reasons. The main one being that I’m a, well, ‘banana girl’ and the trials and tribulations the characters in the story face are ones that ring all too true for me. Being Chinese by racial ethnicity but being born in Canada meant that I’d be viewed by the Chinese community as ‘white’ but my skin tone and hair colour clearly stated something else.

Banana Boys is a collection of five lives intermingling into a rather disjointed collections of stories that blend and weave together existing simultaneously and at different points in the past and future. Darrel Gamotin plays Sheldon Kwan who does his best to find and hold on to love while Matthew Gin plays Mike Chao who dreams of being a writer but falls to the pressures of parental guilt and becomes a doctor instead. Miquelon Rodriguez plays Luke Yeung determined to carve himself a career of being a DJ despite the odds. Oliver Koomsatira plays Dave Lowe who struggles with his unchecked anger while confronting perceived racial injustices. Finally there is Jeff Yung who plays Rick Wong, his drive to succeed in the corporate world leads to his downfall in a handful of pills.

The script here is incredibly sharp, smart and well rounded as is the sheer physicality of the play itself. Director Nina Lee Aquino did fine work of putting this show together and finding the points where all five actors shine. Yung’s enigmatic character captivated me the most in his tenacity and hunger to achieve his desires regardless of the cost. Likewise Gamotin’s bashful and endearingly awkward way of appealing to his crush is charming and you can’t help but feel for the guy.

While attending this performance with my friend Kayla, the first thing we noticed was the multilevel staging that involved different platforms in the background and foreground that the actors played off of. Though aesthetically very minimal, the actors’ clever use of the levels made for a very visually entertaining work of art. I was also quite fond of their constant use of iPhones — a nod to the ever present presence of technology in daily life — that provided a visceral interactive element to the show that I enjoyed.

Though there are a few lines sprinkled throughout spoken in Cantonese, this is still a show that can be enjoyed by anyone and in particular if you also have heritage roots in a different country. Banana Boys has been relevant for years and continues to be relevant during a time when race is still a clear dividing factor. It is a show and story that provided a necessary voice to a population of people caught between worlds. It is a voice that continues to be making louder and more prominent statements today.

Details

  • Banana Boys is playing at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until May 14, 2017.
  • Performances run Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm with Sunday matinees at 2 pm.
  • Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and students/arts workers in April; $35 and $25 for seniors and students/arts workers in May.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone by calling 416 504 9971, or in person at the box office.
  • Audience Advisory: This performance contains mature content, coarse language, and strobe lights. Recommended for ages 15+.

Photo of Darrel Gamotin, Matthew Gin, Jeff Yung, Miquelon Rodriguez and Oliver Koomsatira by Joseph Michael Photography

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