Michelle Law’s debut play ‘Single Asian Female’ is relatable in a way that few mainstream Australian theatre productions are: it addresses themes of culture loss, migrant family experiences, and racism—both internal and external—in middle-class white Australia.
Pearl (Hsiao-Liang Tang), single mother of two, runs Sunshine Coast Chinese restaurant, Golden Phoenix. Her younger daughter, Mei (Courtney Stewart), is completing grade twelve while her eldest, Zoe (Alex Lee), pursues her career as a violinist.
Being one of the few Chinese kids at her school, and despite of the support of her best friend, Katie (Emily Burton), Mei deals with feelings of internalised racism as she tries to befriend cool-girl Lana (Emily Vascotto). This rejection of culture also manifests in the turbulence in Mei’s relationship with her mother, who often misuses words and speaks Chinglish, which Mei is embarrassed by.
The play’s strongest undercurrent is perhaps the theme of female relationships—mothers, daughters, sisters, friends—which the almost all-female cast showcase with nuance and intensity. There is only one male cast member—Patrick Jhanur, who plays Paul—an immigration lawyer and Zoe’s one (or two)-night-stand.
Given that the two-hour play strives to encompass much of the migrant and second-generation experience, few of the many pertinent issues raised can be delved into with necessary depth. We are given a glimpse into the multi-faceted migrant, female narrative. However, the production is undoubtedly notable in its frank discussion of the current political climate, particularly Australia’s (and much of the Western world’s) perspective on immigration.
Law breaks the emotional crescendo of the second act with well-timed comic relief—although, throughout the play, this comic relief can often rely on Pearl’s broken language. This then raises the question of audience, and to whom some of these jokes were tailored. However, Pearl does snap at her daughters when they critique her English: ‘I speak three languages—how many do you speak?’
‘Single Asian Female’ is an accessible comedy that brings new and necessary perspective to Australian theatre, and is a promise that Australia can only go further and further in its critique of the migrant narrative.
‘Single Asian Female’ is at the La Boite Theatre until March 4.
BY / Michelle Law
DIRECTION / Claire Christian
CAST INCLUDES / Hsiao-Ling Tang, Courtney Stewart, Alex Lee, Emily Burton, Patrick Jhanur and Emily Vascotto
SET DESIGN / Moe Assaad
LIGHTING DESIGN / Keith Clark
COMPOSITION & SOUND DESIGN / Wil Hughes