PU-ERH by Norman Yeung, directed by Keira Loughran. Presented by Stage One at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. August 5 at 6:30 pm, August 6 at 2 pm, August 7 at 11 pm, August 10 at 9:30 pm, August 12 at 8 pm, August 13 at 12:30 pm, August 14 at 5 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Fathers and sons often have trouble ommunicating. In Norman Yeung's Pu-Erh , they literally speak different languages.
Yeung's two-hander - the title refers to the Chinese tea the characters drink - is a conversation between parent and child the night before Raymond, the son, moves from Vancouver to Toronto to study acting. Each man tries to explain himself and his life to the other, though the father speaks little English and Raymond speaks halting Cantonese.
A workshop of the piece by Asian theatre company fu-GEN last April proved the piece has a strong emotional centre, even for those who understand only one of the play's languages.
Though the subject is father/son relationships, language itself is clearly an important theme.
Filmmaker and visual artist Yeung, who also plays Raymond, can't write Chinese or speak much Cantonese. Still, he says his depiction of this relationship isn't autobiographical.
"I didn't think it was necessary to write the text in Chinese," he explains, "as long as whoever plays the father is fluent in the language and can translate what I wrote.
"Everyone in the audience should always be aware of what's happening onstage. As long as the intentions are clear and the actors perform with conviction, the actual language shouldn't matter so much as what the characters do and what they mean."
The characters' differing values cause their clash, notes Yeung. The father, who brought his family to Canada from China, has been a labourer all his life; Raymond, pursuing a career in the arts, looks down on manual work and feels that his father never tried to better himself.
"At some level, the play deals with immigration issues, though it's not an immigrant story," says Yeung. "In the 80s, many plays by Asian North American writers dealt didactically with the immigrant experience. These days, stories explore the lives of immigrants who have been in a new country for decades."