Thursday, 20 May 2010
Written by Hoa Pham, by Hungry Ghosts
La Mama Courthouse, May 20 to June 6 then touring Vicoria
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Hoa Pham’s play, Silence, directed by Wolf Heidecker, focuses on the stories of three generations of Vietnamese-Australian women: the grandmother, Ba (Gabrielle Chan), her daughter-in-law, Ma (Diana Nguyen), and Ba’s granddaughter, Dao (Ai Diem Le), who is Ma’s teenage daughter. Silence is part of the Theatre For Our Diverse Community program at La Mama and funded by Vic Health.
The Vietnamese family home is represented by the scent of cooked, noodle dishes, a red-glowing, candle-lit Buddhist altar, death anniversary rituals and a song that warns of “hungry ghosts” that refuse to pass into the next world and demand to be fed. These ghosts, one being Ma’s dead husband, are depicted by floating masks and white-robed puppeteers (Bronwen Kamasz, Conor Fox, directed by Penelope Bartlau).
Although the three actors seem a little uncomfortable on stage, their relationship to the Vietnamese culture gives this play credibility. Chan gives the grandmother a fragile, aging beauty and other-worldiness as she struggles with the hungry ghost of her son. Nguyen finds moments of passion when talking about her corrupt, dead husband and, as Dao, Le captures the stroppiness of a resentful teenager.
The naturalism of the script, with its unnecessarily expository dialogue, clashes with the abstract images of the spirit world. Although naturalism and stylisation can work well together, the disparate elements of this production are not cohesive and sit awkwardly. Some fierce editing and restructuring of this script and smoother transitions between scenes would enhance its impact.
By Kate Herbert