Tag: Yuchen Wang

Wolf Play, by Hansol Jung

A passionate and intricate story of family, love, loss, queerness and otherness

By Sebastian Purcell

Wolf (Yuchen Wang) is a 6 year old Korean boy put up for adoption on the internet after his white-American-adoptive father Peter (Charlie Cousins) and his wife have a new baby. Wolf is adopted by Robin (Jing-Xuan Chan), with her initially supportive brother Ryan (Kevin Hofbauer) present. Ash (Brooke Lee), Robin’s wife, laments that the adoption wasn’t a joint decision as she is about to go pro in her boxing career. Peter comes to regret giving Wolf up, holding traditional family values and views of fatherhood and homophobia. Peter fights for Wolf’s return through the messy court system that both parties attempted were trying to avoid.

Director Isabella Vadiveloo has created a vivid, emotional work that is both complex and at the core very simple–the love of a parent for a child. There are strong themes of the fear of otherness–Asian, queerness and loneliness–that shines through in real way on stage. Sam Diamond’s set and costume design is interesting–all blue for the set (kitchen, floor, walls, balloons, couch) with the white lines of a boxing ring framing the set; it’s striking in one sense but also cleverly fades into the background allowing the actors to pull focus at all times.

Every single performer puts in standout performances. There is a physicality to Lee’s boxing performance of Ash, enhanced by the creative team’s lighting and staging, which is terrific. The emotional connection and longing for a family that Chan and Cousins each display is palpable and Hofbauer’s masculinity comes to the forefront as the play progresses as he subtly yet commandingly switches from supporter to agitator. However, Wang’s control as quasi narrator, often puppeteer of 6 year old Wolf, offers at times some of the few moments of levity. Using inner monologue and breaking the fourth wall, he breaks through the heavy material and captivates the audience from start to finish. Wang’s commitment and execution of a howling wolf is also very impressive.

The entire production is tight. It’s almost two-hour run time is forgotten; I was drawn into the detail of the relationships on stage, and cleverly at times. through a great lighting technique, off stage too. The use of a puppet connected at times to Wang, and at other times connected to other characters, is a really interesting choice; it allows the audience to feel the size and vulnerability of the puppet child and the commanding and insightful performance of Wang too.

As the play reminds us, a wolf will adapt to its surroundings, so will those cast as others in society. This is a play that would easily fit right at home on some of Melbourne’s biggest stages.

Wolf Play is showing at Red Stitch Actors Theatre until 2 April with tickets available via Wolf Play 2023 — Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre

Photo supplied

Malthouse Presents LITTLE EMPERORS

Brave, beautiful and necessary

 By Leeor Adar

2016 saw the glass-globe political bubble of China’s One Child Policy shatter. Picking up the pieces of what is presented as a haunted generation of youth and families, the brave new work of Lachlan Philpott and director Wang Chong is both penetrating and poignant.

Little Emperors - Yuchen-Wang-Photo-by-Tim-Grey.jpg

A talented cast drive this absorbing story of Kaiwen (Yuchen Wang), separated from a family he is too young to remember and suddenly asked to return to the world that rejected him. His tenuous connection with his sister, Huishan, (Alice Qin) harbours a familiar Chinese communal secret, and we are plunged into a world built on memory, the subconscious and heartbreaking reality. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching character is that of their mother, played with such varied and breathtaking emotion by Diana [Xiaojie Lin] – a character so tormented by living the life she endured against her will.

Philpott’s writing is achingly familiar as it speaks to something even I, an outsider, can recognise as the universal desire for closeness with our kin. Philpott’s opportunity to visit Beijing and meet with local people whilst collaborating with Chong has given a real dimension to his work. It would be easy to dismiss Philpott’s writing as another outsider attempting to discuss the unrelatable, but Little Emperors provides a rare glimpse into a world rarely discussed or acknowledged by its own people. In the play, Kaiwen now living in Melbourne directs his own work to confront the One Child Policy, but his cast one by one vanish as they find unearthing their secrets either too painful or unspeakable.

Where this play is overall potent, the uncomfortable dialogue and acting between Kaiwen and his sound technician (Liam Maguire) distracts. While it would be easy to dismiss the relationship between these two characters, it reveals a savage loneliness of Kaiwen. This loneliness breathes throughout the play as our characters battle inner torments they find difficult to express to those around them. It is evident that those who live in Kaiwen’s originating home struggle with what occurred in their own way.

The staging of Little Emperors is visually and stylistically brilliant. The entire stage is one murky pool of water through which our characters navigate uniquely. Kaiwen walks in the water with ease, but he also uses it with a violence to convey his own turbulent mind. Little white chairs serve as stepping-stones for the women, as they, chair after chair, exhaustingly negotiate every social interaction with forced labour. In one scene, the mother beats her own body with the body of water, side to side, in an unrelenting force of self-flagellation. Romanie Harper’s set design is so effective I cannot think of a more fluid use of staging to convey the inner tumult and complexities of these characters. Nothing is left unused or unturned on the Little Emperors stage. James Paul’s sound design matches the staging with a moodiness that permeates everything around it – this little world created before us grips us in an oxymoron of vitality and gloom.

I walk out of the theatre feeling closer to a truth I heard about in passing, and I feel for a moment closer to a community I have had limited interaction with. Australian audiences can gain much by seeing this work, and it assists in breaking cultural boundaries and giving insights where none have really been offered before. This is brave, beautiful and necessary theatre.

Little Emperors will be performed until the 26 February at the Malthouse Theatre. Bookings: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/little-emperors

Image by Tim Grey