Lantern: An illuminating play

James Roque and Chye-Ling Huang

Lantern, Light Your Way Home, by Renee Liang
Pretty Asian Theatre Production
Musgrove Theatre, Auckland University
Until February 15

Near the end of Lantern, Renee Liang's new play, Rose gives her two children traditional small red envelopes as recompense and apology for the hurt she has caused them. The envelopes contain cheques for large sums of money.

As I left the theatre I was also given one of the same red envelopes. Mine contained a short poem by Sung Dynasty poet Su Shi telling me that “Happiness and sadness comes for us in parts”. The children got the  money; I got to be told that life is about love and loss.

This is probably a grand metaphor for the play that is essentially a play about love – personal love, love of culture, love of family and love of country. Some people get more of the love and others less. Some people work on getting the love others don’t bother.

The play is book-ended by Henry, Rose's 70-year-old husband admitting to her he has yet to understand the Western concept of romantic love yet he is enthralled by traditional Chinese literature. This in a sense contrasts with Rose’s admission early on that she, as a New Zealand-born Chinese, has no knowledge of the language.

Lantern is full of the ambiguities one finds in immigrant cultures, whether to hold on to the trappings of a culture or the spirit of that culture. There is much about the nature of being Chinese in New Zealand as well as the changing nature of the relationship with the dominant culture.

The son Ken is teased by his friend Gaza about being a boiled egg – white on the outside and yellow inside. Jen the sister resorts to simpering Chinese speech when confronted with the police to get off a ticket.

The four main roles of Henry, Rose , Ken and Jen plus another half dozen smaller roles are all played by James Roque and Chye-Ling Huang.

They give outstanding performances as they morph from one role to another with superb timing and astute acting. Roque is particularly clever in changing from the 20-year-old Ken to the elderly Henry. With just slight facial expressions and body language he transforms himself.

Huang does not capture the physicality of her characters as vividly but she provides them with a rich emotional intensity.

The play is being presented only for the few days of the Lantern Festival but deserves a much longer season. See it when it returns.

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