Produced by Factory Theatre and fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre, David Yee’s acquiesce is a play about figuring out who you are by negotiating the tension between two paths of spiritual growth: the traditional way through rituals performed in the service of institutions that keep communities together, like culture and religion; and the modern way through the pursuit of passions, which leaves matters of discipline, structure, and principled behaviour with the individual.
Enter Sin Hwang (David Yee), a broody, strung out writer from Toronto whose estranged and recently deceased father, Tien Wei (John Ng), requested that his only son write his eulogy and read it at his funeral in Hong Kong. Ignorant of his Chinese heritage, Sin travels anyway, moved partly by curiosity, and partly to escape from a breakup with his ex, Nine (Rosie Simon), who visits him in hallucinations of genuine sweetness. Sin stays with a cousin, Kai (Richard Lee), who Tien Wei entrusted to help Sin accomplish the duties he is expected to shoulder upon his father’s death by way of traditional Chinese customs.
Helped along by inquisitive characters, including a potty-mouthed Paddington Bear, a script of unlimited sarcasm, and special effects that paint your field of vision otherworldly from the very first second, this story of one man’s re-introduction to his family will drop your jaw as it detangles the question of how a person should be.
Yee, as the modern freethinker, and Lee, as the pious subscriber, meet the challenge of embodying this spiritual tension by dismissing one another’s character’s thoughts with a scorn that borders on viciousness. It’s thrilling to watch how their characters' opposing worldviews gradually interlock hands. Their sparring powerfully encapsulates the frustrating self-expansion that can arise from meeting someone you totally disagree with halfway.
Yee’s performance is a slow warming to the idea that there’s meaning in acquiescence, in setting critical awareness aside to engage in a personal and meaningless act, like speaking for a dad you stopped loving, because those in attendance think very highly of it.
Sin shows us an alternative to Kai’s stoic faith in tradition by participating in it to make people happy at the expense of his mild discomfort, if only for a little while. Sin’s stumble toward modern secular spirituality — to being selfless of his own accord — is an utterly convincing case for swapping duty for kindness in matters that go against one’s own good opinion.
Michelle Ramsay’s slick lighting design that instantly changes a mood from tender to sinister, and Robin Fisher’s solemn ruin of a set, with its retractable windows, tables and chairs, are the foundation for a show where distinguishing reality from fantasy is a rare occurrence in an otherwise volatile cocktail of the two.
Director Nina Lee Aquino keeps our bearings from settling on either reality or fantasy for long with seamless flashbacks and ghostly apparitions, emphasizing the fluidity of the ideas that give our lives purpose, much as we may like to think them beyond an edit.
acquiesce is the product of earnestly striving for amazement and knowledge of self and succeeding with grace. It gets the green light from me.
acquiesce plays at Factory Theatre Mainspace until Nov. 27. For more information, visit https://www.factorytheatre.ca/201617-season/acquiesce/.