Banana Boys is back. This powerful show, adapted from the novel by Terry Woo and first produced in 2005, has more than earned its status as a classic Canadian play. In it, we follow a group of Asian Canadian young men, each trying to find their place in the world while simultaneously dealing with the death of their best friend and leader.
The five male performers (Darrel Gamotin, Matthew Gin, Oliver Koomsatira, Simu Liu and Philip Nozuka) have their work cut out for them in the dense, often complex script by Leon Aureus, and they rise to the occasion impressively. It’s hard to pick a standout: each actor has moments of deep pathos or cutting wit, but these young men are also uncommonly generous and it’s their sharp work as an ensemble that really shines here.
The strength of the writing also serves to bring the characters to life. Combatting the racist stereotypes of Asian Canadians too often served up in mainstream entertainment, they are incredibly nuanced and human – angry, conflicted, silly, biting and hilarious.
Factory Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino’s stripped down, muscular direction is another stellar element of the show. The actors create the world of the play almost entirely with their voices and bodies. Their many physical and verbal cues are ultra-tight and boldly drive the story forward. Every inch of stage space is used, and off-stage actors lean against the walls, giving the impression that the show is literally bursting out of the theatre.
A fleet of smartphones serve as multi-purpose props throughout the show, though it seems they aren’t as versatile as was hoped. I found myself squinting at times to decipher what images were on the tiny screens, taking me out of the action. A rare swing-and-miss in an otherwise very solid show.
In short, Banana Boys is a beautifully told story with an excellent cast. It chips away at stale stereotypes and gives place to a strong, diverse community of Asian Canadians that is too often made invisible. Not to be missed.
Banana Boys plays at the Factory Theatre’s Studio space until Nov. 22. For more information visit www.factorytheatre.ca.