From tackling racial stereotypes, family conflict, romance and Hello Kitty, Michelle Law's debut play manages to capture the humour, sensitivity and poignant topics we rarely like to bring up in conversation.
The characters created in the play, Single Asian Female, personally resonated as it sounded like my dysfunctional up and down family dynamic, but this is not an uncommon situation with many first and second-generation families living in Australia.
Produced by La Boite Theatre Company and showing at Belvoir Theatre, Single Asian Female, follows a family of Asian women, Pearl (Hsiao- Ling Tang) who is the single mother of two girls, Mei (Courtney Stewart) and Zoe (Alex Lee). It's a story about family bonds, culture loss, migrant family experiences and racism whilst living in a middle-class white community of Nambour on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
Single Asian Female is a refreshing breath of air to Australian theatre.
The stage is set with a homely restaurant complete with Chinese red lanterns and chopsticks, a small staircase leading up to two bedrooms and tables on stage, where audience members can be part of the action. The show opens with Pearl delivering a top-notch tabletop karaoke rendition of 'I Will Survive', celebrating her finalised divorce but bearing the responsibilities of the restaurant she had with her ex-husband.
Pearl's version of 'I will survive'. Photographer: Dan Boud
Pearl's daughters are not in a good state either, having personal crises of their own. The younger daughter Mei, is completing Year Twelve, trying to fit in and befriend, the popular image obsessed mean girl, Lana (Lucy Heffernan), whilst struggling to reconcile her Chinese background and upbringing in Australia. The eldest daughter, Zoe, pursues her career as a violinist whilst navigating the dating scene, a possible pregnancy and having to move back to Nambour after the sale of her apartment in Brisbane.
Michelle Law has written something that truly deserves praise and attention. She tackles head on the subject of culture clash and cross-cultural identity from school years that then continue through to adulthood.
Being one of the few Chinese kids at school, Mei is fed up with being different and decides to purge her Asian possessions including a pink puffy jacket, Hello Kitty pyjama pants, jelly shoes and a rather large Doraemon head mask in her efforts to blend in. Her Aussie bestie, Katie (Emily Burton), has a penchant for Asian food and manga tries to reason with Mei but to no avail.
Zoe is fighting to find work in her dream field but fails time and time again due to her gender and cultural heritage. In her quest for love, we are taken through a few of Zoe's cringe-worthy dates, played by Heffernan and Burton. Law's script has Zoe deftly talking back to her dates with responses to the racial contempt against women of colour and women's choices in life regarding work and family. The final date is with McDreamy Paul (Patrick Jhanur), an immigration lawyer who falls in love with Zoe for being herself.
Zoe with Mcdreamy Pete or was it Paul? Photographer: Dan Boud
Law does play on the Asian stereotypes, yes Pearl runs a Chinese restaurant and both daughters play violin, but these characters represent and acknowledge that we all have our prejudices and can be just as racist whether we are Asian or not.
The play's theme of female relationships between mother, daughter, sister and friend showcases the intensity and crazy dynamics of their bond between each other.
Law has managed to write a play encompassing the migrant and second-generation experiences and is frank about current politics with a reference to Pauline Hanson and Australia's view on immigration. No topic is taboo with views on abortion and promiscuity openly discussed as many Asian families still adhere to strict conservative mindset of no sex before marriage. Mental health and domestic violence are also exposed with such a rawness, which is quite moving.
Single Asian Female is about family, culture and waking up to the ways we treat people who are different from the norm. Growing up in a time where clashes with culture and mother's best intentions were always conflicting, it may have seemed like the end of the world. This play will have you appreciating your heritage, understand mother's best nagging intention and find peace via proudly displaying a Doraemon head mask equivalent by the doorway.
The play is hilarious, touching with a dash of kitschy karaoke. An extraordinary play that gives a glimpse into the multi-faceted migrant female perspective. It will leave you with nostalgia and an appreciation for those family bonds.