I enjoy that the Toronto Fringe Festival has smaller plays that allow glimpses into the lives of a single family. Fine China, produced by The Woodlands Theatre Company, and playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse is a peek into the relationship struggles of two sisters of an immigrant family, brought together after the death of their father.
Amazingly, so many plays can be written about immigrant families, or even families in general, but it never gets old. Each family has it’s own way of being, and it’s own way of dealing with what life throws at them. Writer Julie Phan wrote in the playbill that her story is perhaps not all that different from other stories. I think that sameness leads to relatedness, so that the smallest of differences keep interest alive in the audience.
The use of the theatre space in this play enhanced the intimacy. At times, the actors were onstage, and at other times they were in front. It involves the audience in a real way, having the actors right there almost among us.
Sound Designer Kevin Yue made good musical choices, where traditional Asian music subtly sets the cultural tone. It is complimented by the altar on stage giving a visual reference. While the family and their affairs were relatable to the whole audience, there were cultural indicators such as funeral arrangements for the father, which were interesting to those outside the culture. I certainly found this attention to detail intriguing and authentic.
In addition to being the writer and co-producer, Julie Phan plays the character of Kim, the rebellious and disappointing underachiever of the family. Phan seems right at home in the role, and does an excellent job of embodying the character. Natalie Thai is a good foil, playing the driven and conventional Audrey. They call each other stupid, like real sisters do. Their characters are revealed as the play goes along, though there was one scene where they were answering questions from their extended family, cleverly showing how they were perceived by others.
Nam Nguyen plays Dad with the anger and disappointment necessary for the character, but I wonder about him. What made him the way he was? I wanted to find out more. Mother is mentioned, but never seen.
The Director, Stage Manager and Lighting Designer Colwyn Alletson is young, yet the work he has produced has maturity. There is much youth involved in this play, which lends an earnestness to the whole piece that I feel gives it a lot of charm. These youngsters will be going places!
- Fine China plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. (79 St. George St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Smoking; Mature language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Thursday July 5th, 7:00 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 1:45 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 10:15 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 2:30 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 5:45 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 11:30 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 7:30 pm
Image provided by the company