Ga Ting (Family)


BC Lee., Brian J Sutton and Alannah Ong Credit: Raymond Shun
BC Lee, Brian J Sutton and Alannah Ong
Credit: Raymond Shun

At The Cultch until March 19, 2016

Posted March 9, 2016

It’s really hard to believe that a mother, singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to her infant son, had – according to the baby’s father – “made” the child grow up gay. Beliefs like this, apparently, do exist amongst some parents, especially those from cultures not as liberal as our own. Pity Kevin, a young Asian guy, coming out to such an ignorant father.

It’s easier to leave home and avoid the fallout.

That’s exactly what Kevin Li does in Ga Ting, playwright Minh Ly’s first professionally produced play. Aspiring artist Kevin moves to Vancouver with its openly gay culture where, as his boyfriend Matt says, being gay is almost “trendy”.

Matt travels to Mr. and Mrs. Li’s Toronto home where, after listening to some awkward attempts at conversation, we discover that Kevin has committed suicide and his parents held a funeral to which Matt was not invited. Almost immediately Matt (Brian J. Sutton) accuses the parents of not accepting their son’s preferences both sexual and professional. Except that Mrs. Li (Alannah Ong) is very polite, we wonder why they don’t show him the door. We quickly lose sympathy for Matt; he’s passive aggressive, rude and looking for a scapegoat or two.

We like Mr. Li (BC Lee) even less. He’s intolerant and accusatory. Fiercely proud, he believes what he has done for his son – owning and running a Chinese restaurant – is more important than telling Kevin he loves him.

BD Lee and Alannah Ong Credit: Raymond Shun
BD Lee and Alannah Ong
Credit: Raymond Shun

Mrs. Li is the only one who really tries to understand. Unfortunately, as the details surrounding Kevin’s suicide come to light, she attacks Matt, too.

These are three very messed up people; even bipolar Kevin is not without blame for some unfortunate choices he made. The sad part is that they all loved Kevin but it didn’t prevent him from killing himself.

In a late-in-the-play revelation, it appears Matt has come to Toronto to deliver something to Mr. and Mrs. Li from Kevin. But it’s not until Matt is almost out the door that he seems to remember what he came for – leaving us to assume that what he really came for was to confront Kevin’s parents and to find someone to blame, other than himself.

Costume and set designer Christopher David Gauthier efficiently uses the intimate space in the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab: the Li’s living/dining area is tasteful; Gauthier makes it clear these are people with money and refinement.

As some of the dialogue is in Cantonese, surtitles in English appear on a screen; and, as the Cultch anticipates some non-English speaking patrons, all the dialogue is also projected in Cantonese.

This is Minh Ly’s first play, originally presented by the frank theatre company in 2014 at the Richmond Cultural Centre. Dramaturged by C.E. Gatchalian and directed by Rick Tae, Ga Ting has been re-written and is enjoying a rare second production for a wider audience at The Cultch.

Alannah Ong, BC Lee and Brian J. Sutton Credit: Raymond Shun
Alannah Ong, BC Lee and Brian J. Sutton
Credit: Raymond Shun

The play is, unfortunately, mostly ‘on the nose’. It’s in real time, there’s not a lot of nuance or subtext and these characters say what they are thinking. But there are flashbacks, brightly illuminated by lighting designer Gerald King, with projected photos. These all add elements of welcome theatricality.

It’s refreshing to see a couple of mature Chinese actors on stage and Ga Ting reminds us of the struggle it must be for gay men and women from cultures far less accepting than our own. The consequences of intolerance are intolerable.

Although the playwright doesn’t give us a lot to laugh at, he does offer some humour throughout. I won’t ruin the surprise but the best line arises from a bowl of mango pudding that Mrs. Li, in a fury, hurls to the floor. What follows provides the best laugh of the evening.