HIDING WORDS (FOR YOU) by Gein Wong (Eventual Ashes). At the Enwave (231 Queens Quay West). To September 23. $25, stu/srs $20. 416-973-4000. See listing. Rating: NN
There's a promising story buried in Gein Wong's Hiding Words (For You), but like the central image in the play, it's hard to find.
Wong ambitiously interweaves several characters and time periods, none of which come to life. In a village in Guangzhou, China, on the eve of the mid-19th-century Taiping Rebellion, a calligrapher's wife (Susan Lock) and daughter (Rebecca Applebaum) are involved in a scheme involving Nushu, a secret written language sewn into fabric and passed between women, who were barred from learning to write.
Meanwhile, in modern-day Vancouver, a spoken word artist (Stephanie Jung) is being interrogated by a government officer (Richard Lee) about a protest, when suddenly she's transported a few years back to Hong Kong, where a bohemian Chinese rapper (John Ng) and a performance artist (Traci Kato-Kiriyama) are planning a protest of the Beijing Olympics.
Wong seems to want to look at the empowerment of Chinese women through the ages, a worthy theme that needs much better execution. She should study Anton Piatigorsky's Eternal Hydra to see how to pull off this sort of era-spanning work.
The various political struggles aren't clearly presented, the dialogue sounds wooden, and the directors (Wong and Esther Jun) seem to feel they can make connections between characters and time periods simply by having a red silk-draped figure called the Nushu Dancer (Soomi Kim) flutter around the stage. Banal visual projections do little to help orient us.
With writing this bad, it's no wonder the actors seem as lost as the audience, although Kato-Kiriyama brings a spark to her scenes, and Jung, even when she's delivering a poem in an awkwardly staged section, comes through with most of her dignity intact.