BANANA BOYS by Leon B. Aureus from Terry Woo's novel, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, with Insurp Choi, Derek Kwan, Richard Lee, David Yee and Dale Yim. Presented by Factory Theatre and fu-GEN Asian-Canadian Theatre at Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to October 16, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 3 pm. $23-$30, stu/srs discounts, Sunday pwyc-$20. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
With 40 minutes cut from its original incarnation presented at the same theatre a year ago, Banana Boys remains an entertaining piece of theatre. As before, though, not everything works.
Based on Terry Woo 's novel about five messed up, yellow-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside Chinese-Canadian men, the script dramatizes their complicated lives, which include navigating Old World pressures in a new world that seems not to want them unless they're rich, powerful and speak with a certain specific, sophisticated F.O.B. ("fresh off the boat") accent.
Adapter Leon Aureus has worked hard to make these walking stereotypes work on the stage, and the show is nicely cast so the actors inhabit their roles (the doctor who wants to be a writer, the cold-hearted business type, etc) convincingly.
Insurp Choi and David Yee stand out as, respectively, a directionless DJ and a self-appointed superhero who takes on what he sees as racist incidents.
Director Nina Lee Aquino stages some scenes brilliantly, especially one where the frustrated writer character ( Derek Kwan ) wrestles his domineering mother in a game show parody. An imagined war scenario where the five men try to map out their survival strategy in a complicated minefield also works.
She and Aureus make the conclusion into something approaching a religious parable, where the central character is rejected by his followers.
All the same, some of Aquino's choices ring false. Mournful group singing, unless it's part of a musical, is a tough cliché to make work. Having glasses of some unidentified amber liquid - tea? booze? - on the stage for the characters to drink never pays off either.
A repeated snatch of dialogue - "and so it begins..." - feels fake and pretentious. And so what begins?
As a proud Banana Boy myself, Japanese division, I'm not sure the show (which still clocks in at two hours) can support all the pompous, over-serious cultural baggage heaped on it.