Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman is the latest offering from Toronto’s fu-Gen Theatre, a satirical expose of the hypocrisy at the heart of the American Dream. While there are some differences between the US & Canada, it’s a tale that could just as easily unfold in Toronto. And while CCC displays fu-Gen’s usual focus upon the Asian-American experience, the issues are just as pertinent to other immigrant communities.
I laughed loud & long throughout, recognizing the same dynamic one finds in first and second generation immigrant families of European heritage. Because the first generation wants to assimilate, the dream is defined in terms of the effacement of ethnicity, while subsequent generations struggle to find out who they really are underneath that surface. And so one generation faces off against the next, a war between competing visions, at least two possible identities battling it out. That’s just one sense in which one looks at what’s inside the box; no wonder that the image is central to Camellia Koo’s clever set design, when the metaphor runs through Yee’s play. We’re interrogating their authenticity in this new place, and laughing the whole time.
As I try to put it into words, I know I make CCC sound far more serious than what I experienced in the theatre tonight. But I laughed so hard, at times I worried that I was being disrespectful, even though the play is a high-spirited comedy calling attention to the vanity of our dreams in the new world. Yet we do dream and thank goodness this is not one of those plays telling us that it’s all futile. Success and happiness may be possible, but in this manners comedy–mocking our illusion–everyone is fair game. While no one is safe from Yee’s satire it’s a very laid-back kind of comedy leavened with dance & wit.
Once I stopped worrying, my only concern was that my laughs might drown out some of the clever lines. I don’t want to spoil the surprises of the story, other than to hint at the broad outline of Yee’s play, of an Asian-American nuclear family who each come face to face with their own self-delusion with the help of an unexpected visitor from abroad. The situations are up to date yet universal.
Nina Lee Aquino’s direction is wonderfully fluid & physical, fast-paced but pausing from time to time for a moment’s reflection.
CCC aka Ching Chong Chinaman runs until March 31st at the Aki Studio on Dundas St East. Go see it, and come prepared to laugh.