Thursday, 24 November 2005

Prodigal Daughter by Asa Gim Palomera, Nov 24,2005

Prodigal Daughter  
By Asa Gim Palomera 
Women of Asia Company
 Trades Hall, Carlton
Thurs to Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm, Nov 24 to Dec 4, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The central narrative idea of Prodigal Daughter, by Asa Gim Palomera, could be compelling if handled differently. Palomera’s script and direction of this play are both uneven as is the acting.

After over thirty years living in America, the middle-aged Mina (Mandi Sebasio-Ong) returns to her home in South Korea and to her aged mother (Felicity Steel) and younger sister, Teresa (Kaori Hamamoto).

What is interesting in the story is the sublimated anger, the secrets and lies, deceptions and unspoken prejudices between the mother and two sisters. Mina cannot understand why her family is so disdainful of her. Nor does she understand why she was sent to America as a child and abandoned there.

Slowly, the truth of her past and her mother’s guilt and condemnation are revealed. Mina has no recollection of the abuse she suffered as a six year-old at the hands of the military man (David Dawkins).

The strongest performance is from Steel as the mother. Although she contends with the peculiarities of playing a Japanese woman living in Korean and practising Catholicism, Steel is able to credibly inhabit the character, and portray her racial identity and fraught emotional state.

Sebasio-Ong captures some of the complexity of Mina’s predicament but seems unable to penetrate the character at times.

The actors often seem uncomfortable with the dialogue that is frequently overwritten.

There are too many ancillary characters that do not serve the story. The encounters with the General are cryptic and awkward and the scene by the grave of Mina’s father seems tokenistic and cluttered.

Frequent, lengthy and unnecessary scene changes slow the production and become more important than the telling of the story.

There is potential in the design (Daryl Cordell). Three white screens, backlit, allow offstage action to be viewed in silhouette. The bathhouse scene used this convention effectively although the scene did not contribute much to Mina’s story.

The strongest scenes were those that dealt with the emotional life of the characters at the end of the play. We are moved when the mother reveals the truth of Mina’s childhood and when Mina finally recalls her ordeal and confronts her abuser.

There are flaws in the writing, direction and acting in this production. However, the story is not without merit.

By Kate Herbert

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