A PLAY ABOUT RACE WILL, LITERALLY, OPEN YOUR EYES
An established Ontario transplant will be making his directorial debut at the Arts Commons’ Motel Theatre with a production that he says will be “a punch in the gut.”
Known in London, Ont. for directing Evil Dead: The Musical 2014, and winning the Brickenden Award for best musical and most recently Night of the Living Dead—Live!, director John Iglesias will be making his Calgary debut with the satirical comedy, Ching Chong Chinaman on Oct. 27.
The production, created by Lauren Yee, follows a multi-generational Asian-American family (the Wongs)—who are as American as apple pie—and their struggle with finding their cultural identity. And, through the son, Upton Wong’s (Devin Kotani) desire to be the World of Warcraft Champion, he introduces the titular character Jinqiang—who they erroneously refer to as Ching Chong—to help with his studies which serves as the catalyst for their cultural exploration.
While the production deals with race, Iglesias says the play itself doesn’t just deal with specific cultural issues. Rather, Iglesias says, “This transcends just being Asian—whether they’re first-generation, second-generation, third-generation, or even if they’ve just moved here—they can all relate to it in a way.” “This [play] is for anyone out there who has been pigeonholed or been thrown into a melting pot [where] people tell them [to] ‘become this’ or ‘we don’t want you.’”
Kida Nakamura, who plays Jinqiang, says the theme of exploring one’s own culture is a pertinent issue within the western community.
“If we don’t know our own history, [like the Wangs], then it’s kind of hard to find our own identity,” he says.
“I particularly relate to this play as I’m half-white and half-Japanese.
“And, while I play a Chinese character, a lot of the concepts in this play I do recognize not only in my own life but in my family’s and even my peers’ lives.”
The name of the play itself will turn a few heads with its racial connotations and its direct address towards racial stereotypes, which is a main idea of satire, according to Nakamura.
“[Ching Chong Chinaman] will, of course raise a few eyebrows, regardless of your heritage—but the whole idea of satire is that you’re making fun of something to bring light to it,” he says.
“And—not to put too much of a pun to it—it opens your eyes.”
Ching Chong Chinaman stars Ben Wong as the father, Ed; Grace Lu as the mother; Conni Mah as the daughter, Desdemona; Devin Kotani as the son, Upton; Kida Nakamura as Jingqiang or “Ching Chong”; and Ali DeRegt as various characters. The play premieres 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 and will run through Nov. 7 at the Arts Commons Motel Theatre. Tickets are $30 each.