FRESH AND TIMELY
by Jo Holsted and Michelle Ang
Chairman Meow Productions
at The Basement Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
From 20 Nov 2012 to 24 Nov 2012
Reviewed by Reynald Castaneda, 21 Nov 2012
Chop/Stick is the theatrical equivalent to bubble tea: sweet, cool, refreshing and potentially challenging for people who have yet to taste its difference.
Jo Holsted and Michelle Ang's winning script on multiple identities in a multicultural metropolis – headlined here by Ang – is a celebration of being ‘the other' in a city where being ‘normal' is subjective.
With the help of director Sophie Roberts, Ang's energetic and enthusiastic physical performance as 13 different characters – from a Chinese grandmother to a Samoan teenager; from a white guy from Pukekohe to a Japanese exchange student – is seamless and breathless.
Chop/Stick delivers an unequivocal sugar rush.
Successfully interweaving multiple narratives without being bogged down by content, the play is anchored by Evie: a teenage girl struggling with her identity as a Chinese New Zealander.
Constantly bombarded by opposing ideals – represented by her endearingly authoritarian grandmother, and her bossy and clueless best friend Kayla – it captures the familiar confusion and conflict facing young Asian teenagers.
The play freely diverts into other narratives, too. Its transitions are light as a feather, without insulting the intelligence of its audience by assuming it can't follow a multilayered narrative.
Situational anecdotes, sprinkled along the way, comment on prejudices faced by Asian immigrants in Auckland's congested city sprawl, yet avoid being didactic.
The most memorable side-story is about a female Japanese exchange student's encounter with a male sidewalk heckler. “You should stop speaking Japanese. You should speak English, you immigrant,” he asserts. Her retort is brilliant.
Chop/Stick unashamedly uses stereotypes – as it should. If it ahd tiptoed around them, it could have exposed itself to jeers of political correctness. In effect, the Basement Theatre becomes a safe haven to laugh at our own prejudices while making us feel good in the process.
On opening night, the scenes that gathered the most laughs came from the familiar: Ang's broad portrayal of a rowdy Samoan teenager, for example. He picks his nose. He grabs his crotch. He jokes he's off to screw his mate's mum.
While Chop/Stick doesn't necessarily deliver something new, it feels fresh and timely. In a particular moment, an audio grab from a talkback caller with explicitly racist comments is allowed airtime. Chop/Stick is not necessarily calling it out, but emphasising why plays like this remain relevant.
Ang's performance is spotless. She's charming, lively and expertly flip-flops between multiple personalities. She practically disappears into every character she inhabits.
Its technical staging is a winner, too. White see-through linen graces the stage and functions as walls, mirrors and physical demarcation for different personalities. The flickering of light mimics a television, a karaoke bar or even a Chinese restaurant. There's richness in its economy.
Chop/Stick is unmissable. Not only is it funny, but also delivers valid insight into city living where every face you see is dissimilar from your own.
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Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);