Zoé Doyle (photo credit: Alex Felipe)
Red Snow provokes, fascinates
by Beat Rice
ALPHA stands for the Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia. Their mission is to educate about what is not taught in high school history classes; about what happened in Asia during the war. Aluna Theatre believes in works that deal with social issues that inspire change. These organizations, along with playwright Diana Tso have accomplished their mandates. I walked away moved by the emotional, historical, political, and educational story of young Isabel’s (Zoé Doyle) journey to learn of her grandmother’s past. Her trip to China leads her to Jason, a Japanese Canadian. She falls for him, knowing well that her Gung Gung (her grandfather, played by Richard Tse) will not approve. Gung Gung lives with his daughter, Popo, played by Janet Lo, who has never told Isabel of her father’s identity. The three family members share haunting memories of Lily, Gung Gung's late wife who was lost during the war, whose ethereal presence is played by Vienna Hehir. Beatriz Pizano, who did an excellent job in bringing this drama to life, directs Red Snow.
The story is after all, universal.
Red Snow is the type of theatre we need more of in Toronto. It asks questions, it shows us the wide spectrum of humanity, and urges us to change our perspectives, but not in a preachy way. Yes, there are some moments in the play that were very factual, moments that are not that dramatic to watch. But sometimes statistics are necessary in order to put things into perspective and to make an impact. The play was educational, as it spoke of true historical events, but more than that, it showed us people who have been affected by war and how it shapes them into who they are.
Theatrically, it was also well done. There was also some very creative use of movement, choreographed by William Yong. One moment that stands out is when Isabel and Gung Gung use their arms to write invisible, larger than life calligraphy in the air, creating pictures and words with their bodies. The accompaniment by two live musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments helped to create the world that these characters live in. Projections of a Chinese translation of the text helps make this play accessible to those for whom English is a second language. The story is after all, universal.
There were some technical things I did not like about the production but the story was compelling and the writing was strong. Zoé Doyle was hard to listen to because most of her lines were delivered in the same way, high with tension and volume, and lacked in dynamics. Her voice sounded strained as she tried to project her voice to the back of the house. By contrast, Richard Tse played Gung Gung with so much emotion and pain it brought several around me to tears as he recalled the events he witnessed in China.
For theatre that makes you think, head to Theatre Passe Muraille to see Red Snow, and bring a friend, because you are going to want to talk about it immediately after the show.