What is a family? This is a central question driving the action of “Pluck’d”, a socio-realist production by Montreal-based Bald Angry Asian Productions. The play revolves around a Chinese family gathered for Christmas dinner, a time rife for rising tensions and bubbling turmoil if ever there was one.
Written by Kě Xīn Li with sharp characterizations and biting commentary, Pluck’d is directed with aplomb by Sophie Gee. The show, while serious and precise in its dealings with the turmoil inherent between many first-and-second generation immigrants, leaves plenty of room for levity and laughs to lighten (but not abate) those tensions.
The first thing you’ll notice is the set design. Relatively sparse in furniture, the stage is empty save for a square dining table with three wooden, high-backed chairs surrounding it. Notably, they’re covered in Saran Wrap. Oh, and so is the entire floor. It’s striking, and provides an immediate entry point to the world of these characters. Whether this was written into the script by Li, or added directorially by Gee, it’s a strong choice. It summons connotations and interpretations before the action even begins; there is something to be protected against.
The next thing you’ll notice are two of the three main players – the mother and father of this nuclear family – energetically scrubbing the floors. It sets a precedent for the rest of the play, symbolizing the ways in which our parent’s are always trying to make situations amenable to us – whether or not we asked for it.
By the time the third player enters the scene, the roles have been set. We have the child, misunderstood and misrepresented by their parents; the father, steadfast in his convictions and convinced of his righteousness; and the mother, placating presence and silent mediator between the two. The characters fall into a rather repetitious rhythm wherein the child attempts to elucidate their feelings, establish their identity, and explain how they are being ignored, followed by the father stubbornly listing the ways he has provided for his “daughter” (despite their repeated refutations that no, “I am your child”), while the mother does the busiwork of readying dinner and cleaning up, all with a smile on her face. The script is relentless in energizing the antagonism between father and child, which, to those who can empathize with the situation, will resonate deeply. It is a story of miscommunication between family members, of how family is defined differently by each subsequent generation, and the painful and seemingly intractable fissures those inconsistencies create.
While the show speaks specifically to Chinese first-and-second generation immigrants, the themes resonate because of their universality. If, at times, the characters come off more as mouthpieces than real people, it is because their words need to be said so badly – this is a story we haven’t seen before – that they are practically bursting out. The script, in its dogged pursuance of these conflicting sides of debate, is served handily by the enthusiasm and sheer energy of the performers. While each character is resigned to a relatively shallow pool of emotions or points of view, the actors give themselves entirely to the performances, forcing the audience into a state of attentiveness and appreciation. The mother character provides much of the comic relief during the play, and while I understand the impetus behind silencing her character, one wonders if there was not a larger part of her experience to be shared as well – though the fact that she seems to be the only one who sees the bigger picture (and, pointedly, the audience) is not lost on me.
So much could be said about the issues raised in this play it is hard to sum up in a single review – which, in a sense, is the review. This is theatre that will leave you thinking about your own familial relations, that will leave you talking to your friends after the show, and that will hopefully get people ruminating on the ways in which human experience is tied to the individual but inextricably linked with family, with community, with the other, and how that takes its toll on all those involved. If you’ve ever felt alone or misunderstood, go see this show.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Andrew Sawyer
B.A.A.P (Bald Angry Asian Productions) presents “Pluck’d”
When: June 8 – 17, 2017
Where: MainLine Theatre, 3997 Saint-Laurent Blvd, H2W 1Y4
Duration: 45 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival