Theatre review: Ga Ting has a universal message

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“In Chinese culture and other ethnicities being gay is even more taboo than other communities and it’s important to get a story like this out to show that we exist" - playwright Minh Ly.

Food may very well be the universal language of family, with a meal in in Minh Ly’s new play Ga Ting becoming the catalyst for an emotional meeting between a biological family and a chosen one.

In Ga Ting, which means “family” in Cantonese, Matt arrives at the home of the parents of his partner Kevin, who has recently committed suicide.  The first time that Matt has met them, the trio shares a meal while sharing stories about the young man.  Refusing to acknowledge that their son was gay and Matt’s significance in his life, Matt is driven to convince the parents to accept their son as a whole, not just the parts that they are comfortable with.

While there is some genuinely heart wrenching moments in Ly’s play, the central theme of posthumous reconciliation doesn’t always ring true.  While it is easy to imagine parents wanting to know more about their son, especially when distance and lifestyle have kept them apart, here Ly goes on the offensive, forcing Matt into an untenable role that would have most parents showing him the door well before they get to the mango dessert.  Here Ly chooses to use Matt as a way to sermonize on the idea of acceptance and to help change attitudes in the Chinese community about homosexuality; a laudable goal and something Ly has said in previous interviews remains an issue.

There are some fine performances among the trio of actors. Michael Antonakos balances the aggressiveness of Matt with humour, a killer smile and even a wonderful singing voice.  Alannah Ong finds the heart of the story with ease as the mother and while B.C. Lee struggles against the stereotype of the aloof father, his final moments are enough to illicit tears.

“In Chinese culture and other ethnicities being gay is even more taboo than other communities and it’s important to get a story like this out to show that we exist" - playwright Minh Ly.

“In Chinese culture and other ethnicities being gay is even more taboo than other communities and it’s important to get a story like this out to show that we exist” – playwright Minh Ly.

Presented with English and Chinese surtitles, this co-production between The Frank Theatre Company and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre is all about accessibility.  Choosing to present the show at the Richmond Cultural Centre makes it pretty obvious who the target market is, an assumption though that short-changes the universality of the Ly’s central message.

In an interview last year, the playwright concluded that Ga Ting isn’t just about being gay, but about parents getting to know your children and children sharing themselves with their parents.  There is little doubt that Ga Ting is a spark to help with that dialogue.  Go see it.  Take your parents.

Ga Ting continues at the Richmond Culture Centre (7700 Minoru Gate, Richmond) through March 30, 2014. Visit http://vact.ca or http://thefranktheatre.com for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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