Review: Single Asian Female (La Boite Theatre Company)

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Michelle Law and Courtney Stewart are a dynamic duo as Zoe and Mei Wong. Photographs by Stephen Henry.

La Boite Theatre Company began their 2019 season by welcoming audiences back into The Golden Phoenix for Michelle Law’s Single Asian Female. Pearl is the long-suffering matriarch of the Wong family; intelligent, driven, and occasionally overbearing as she juggles running her Sunshine Coast restaurant with the mothering of her daughters Zoe (manoeuvring online dating and a career in classical music) and Mei (struggling to fit in, and to define herself in modern Australia). With all three women back in the house, each at a different stage of life and facing their own challenges, Pearl struggles with a secret that could tear the family apart.

LB2019_SAF Production_Hsiao-Ling Tang, Courtney Stewart and Michelle Law_4_Photo Stephen Henry
Michelle Law, Hsiao-Ling Tang and Courtney Stewart as the Wong family. Photographed by Stephen Henry.

Following a sold-out season at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre last year, Single Asian Female’s return to La Boite is once again directed by Claire Christian and this Brisbane season stars the playwright herself as the oldest Wong sister. Christian said it best in her opening night speech: “This show speaks to what this sector needs right now – shows that are inherently political because of who has written them, who has made them, and whose faces you see in them.”

“I wrote this play because until I did I’d never seen anyone like me on stage before,” Michelle Law said. “Our stages don’t reflect our society and if it doesn’t, what’s the point?”

LB2019_SAF Production_Hsiao-Ling Tang, Courtney Stewart and Michelle Law_2_Photo Stephen Henry
Courtney Stewart, Michelle Law and Hsiao-Ling Tang. Photographed by Stephen Henry.

La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre was the perfect setting for The Golden Phoenix – performing in the round brought audiences directly into the restaurant and allowed for less conventional use of space, including audience members seated at the tables of The Golden Phoenix and cast members in the aisles. The multi-levelled set designed by Moe Assaad allowed for separation of spaces and the keeping of secrets even with all characters on stage.

LB2019_SAF Production_Hsiao-Ling Tang and Michelle Law_1_Photo Stephen Henry
Michelle Law and Hsiao-Ling Tang. Photographed by Stephen Henry.

Hsiao-Ling Tang gave an equally emotional and hilarious performance as Pearl Wong, and impressed audiences with her karaoke skills. Michelle Law delivered a strong performance as Zoe Wong, the bridge between her mother’s enthusiastic gestures of love and her younger sister’s desperation to find a place at the top of the social food chain. Law was quietly dynamic, whether keeping the peace in the Wong household or managing her frustration at judgemental peers and unsuitable suitors, and her moments of vulnerability felt the most intimate (sex scenes aside) because she is shown to be the most emotionally restrained and level-headed of the Wong women. Courtney Stewart was brimming with personality as Mei Wong, as well as creating the show’s choreography, and the sisterly relationship of alternating fights and affection she staged with Michelle Law was recognisably authentic to anyone with a younger sibling. Patrick Jhanur, Tatum Mottin and Emily Burton rounded out a cast overflowing with charisma, and with obvious affinity for their roles and each other.

LB2019_SAF Production_Hsiao-Ling Tang, Courtney Stewart, Tatum Mottin and Emily Burton_Photo Stephen Henry
Emily Burton, Tatum Mottin, Courtney Stewart and Hsiao-Ling Tang. Photographed by Stephen Henry.

Sound design by Wil Hughes and lighting design by Keith Clark took the audience seamlessly from dimly lit bars to childhood bedrooms and back, and costume design by Moe Assaad allowed for quick swapping between characters and created a further revelation of character for the three Wong women in particular.

LB2019_SAF Production_Michelle Law and Patrick Jhanur_1_Photo Stephen Henry
Patrick Jhanur, Michelle Law, Courtney Stewart and Hsiao-Ling Tang. Photographed by Stephen Henry.

The imperfections and raw vulnerability that Law has written into her characters is refreshing, as is the realistic setting of contrasts, mishaps, and awkward circumstances she has created for them to inhabit. Single Asian Female is a portrait of family life that intertwines comedy with commentary, filled with Law’s characteristic biting wit and unflinching observation. The work addresses racial stereotypes, cultural appropriation, and sexism as well as the universal issues of family, friendships, dating, and bravely facing up to adulthood in a way that is thought-provoking, moving, and joyful.

LB2019_SAF Production_Hsiao-Ling Tang, Courtney Stewart and Michelle Law_3_Photo Stephen Henry
Patrick Jhanur, Michelle Law, Courtney Stewart and Hsiao-Ling Tang. Photographed by Stephen Henry.

For ticketing and further information, visit La Boite’s website. Single Asian Female will also be playing at Arts Centre Melbourne from April 3 – 21 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

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