MOTHER TONGUE by Betty Quan, directed by Jim Warren, with Sean Baek, Marjorie Chan, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jane Luk. Presented by Factory Theatre and Cahoots at the Factory Studio Café (125 Bathurst). To June 3, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, mat Sunday 2:30 pm. $16-$23, Sunday pwyc-$16. 416-504-9971. Rating: NN
the running time for betty Quan's Mother Tongue is an hour, but you'll probably find yourself looking at your watch to see if it's broken.
That's better than looking at Glenn Davidson's set, though, which requires turning your head about two dozen times, tennis-match style. Director Jim Warren has staged the play, which explores the difficulties of communication and language in an immigrant Chinese family, on several playing areas. That's to underscore the theme of bridging gaps. And who's gonna pay my chiropractor bill?
Symbols and metaphors are more important than characters and plot. One character, Mimi (Marjorie Chan), has for years acted as interpreter between her Cantonese-speaking mom (Jane Luk) and her deaf brother (Sean Baek). Mimi wants to be an architect. So she can build bridges. Get it?
The show is telegraphed in the first 10 minutes, complete with the by now cliched device of using a Chinese myth -- awkwardly related, as it turns out -- to help lend structure to the piece.
As for the performances, Chan has played this part before, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee tackles the most thankless role this season, and Baek's cheekbones are sharper than his acting.
Only a committed, impassioned performance by Luk, as a woman haunted by her past who feels she's living with strangers, makes this play watchable.