Theater Critic: Scenes from a Yellow Peril, Auckland Theater Company

Nathan Joe, writer and actor of Auckland Theater Company’s Scenes from a Yellow Peril. Picture / Crown Andi

Last year, Auckland Theater Company attracted attention for its production of Single Asian Female – a landmark show for diversity as it was the company’s first with three female Asian leads, but it was not without its flaws. . Pleasant and well-staged, it ultimately fits too perfectly into the normal bread and butter of ATC. In my review, I wrote that I hoped it would serve as a foundation for more difficult work in years to come.

I didn’t expect it to come so soon, but I doubt most traditional ATC viewers would have expected a show as daring, entertaining, or thought-provoking as Scenes from a Yellow Peril. A co-production with SquareSums & Co and Oriental Maidens, the latest work from rising theater star Nathan Joe is a firecracker of a production that tears up the rulebook and sets a new standard for the scope of an ATC job.

Told through 14 “Scenarios for the Asian Assimilate”, Scenes defies genre or definition, combining every theatrical form you can think of – poetry, spoken word, karaoke, dance, music, monologue – in a hard-hitting 70-minute show with an undercurrent of rage and rebellion that pervades each scene.

This is a play that unabashedly explores the Asian experience in New Zealand, with stories touching on real life murders 100 years ago to the ethics of watching porn and dealing with racist in-laws .

This is by far the most innovative, imaginative and provocative ATC show since their pandemic response article, 48 nights on Hope Street – which was also directed by Jane Yonge and featured a piece by Joe. It’s a sign of the change that has been ushered in by new Creative Director and General Manager Jonathan Bielski that these talented artists have been given such a great platform to play with and the freedom to tell a story that speaks to them, rather than trying de have their cake and also eat it with the traditional ATC audience.

The entire creative team excels here – Steven Junil Park’s costumes are simple but stunning, Rachel Marlow and Brad Gledhill manage to take full advantage of the Waterfront Theater stage with incredibly little, and the three-piece band led by Kenji Iwamitsu- Holdaway delivers a haunting score.

The casting is simply impeccable. Joe is joined by Uhyoung Choi, Amanda Grace Leo, Louise Jiang, and Angela Zhang, and each is captivating in their own way, with the different tones and styles of each storyline giving each actor a moment to shine.

Nathan Joe, center, with the cast and band of Scenes from a Yellow Peril.  Picture / Crown Andi
Nathan Joe, center, with the cast and band of Scenes from a Yellow Peril. Picture / Crown Andi

Leo in particular stood out with his stunning vocals during “I Cannot Invite My Parents to My Play.” Zhang gets a star moment in Park’s most stunning costume in “Affirmations at the End of the World,” while Jiang before her does some of the most intricate dances you’ll ever see on stage in the “Decolonize” music video. the body”. “.

The only place the piece stumbles is when it removes the fourth wall and brings the production side to the fore. The play opens with a Q&A aspect – on the Yonge-directed opening night – where the actors ask impromptu questions, a good time at first but it feels awkward when it comes back later, and doesn’t then has no transparent impact on the rest of the show.

It carries on to the end, where it seems – as is often the case with anthologies or non-narrative plays like this – that Joe didn’t know how to wrap it up. The final segment focuses solely on Joe, and is moving, honest, and witty, but also runs the risk of over-personalizing a piece that had avoided being too directly about an individual’s experience before, and had had the universal scope to have a long life beyond this short term.

It was only a slight gripe at the end of what is otherwise an impeccable and perfectly constructed production that grabs you from the opening “Short History of Humiliations” which sets the tone perfectly.

Joe’s writing is a welcome confrontation delivered in an entertaining package, and Yonge deserves accolades for bringing it to life in such a creative and ever-changing way. And I hope that’s the clearest sign yet that ATC is under new management, that they’re ready to push the envelope and challenge their audience, and I can’t wait to see what happens. will then go through their pipeline.

What: Scenes from a Yellow Peril
Where: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until Sunday July 3

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