Following its Brisbane debut in 2017 and subsequent sell-out season at Belvoir Theatre in 2018, Michelle Law’s Single Asian Female returned to La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre last night, playing to a packed house and riotous applause. Deftly walking the line between comedy and drama, Law’s play tells the story of Pearl, a recently divorced Chinese-Australian woman who juggles running the Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant at Queensland’s Sunshine Coast with raising her two daughters, Zoe and Mei. As the play progresses, we are privy to the unique challenges facing all three women, and the story pivots on the ability of mother and daughters to be authentic and vulnerable with one another.
From the opening moments of the play, Hsiao-Ling Tang is electric as Pearl, commanding the stage in every scene in which she appears. Her delivery is confident, playful and articulate, expertly capturing both the comedy and the pathos essential to her character. Playwright Michelle Law steps into the shoes of elder daughter Zoe, hitting some excellent comic moments while portraying the difficulties of cross-cultural identification that plagues this first-generation Australian. Courtney Stewart is winning as high schooler Mei, whose angst in trying to gain the approval of her flaky white friends is genuinely moving.
Special mention must go to Emily Burton, who is outstanding in the supporting role of Katie. With expert comic delivery – both spoken and physical – Burton had the opening night audience in stitches from her first scene, and cheering the house down by the end. Despite only appearing in a handful of scenes, Patrick Jhanur is strong in the role of Paul, bringing fantastic energy and sincerity to this small but important role. Tatum Mottin rounds out the cast in a number of supporting roles, poking fun at cultural stereotypes as the white girl the audience loves to hate.
Director Claire Christian deserves congratulations for the schmick delivery of Single Asian Female. There are some brilliant moments of physical comedy, including a hilarious battle between Zoe, Mei and an air mattress, which are a masterclass in choreography and show a keen directorial skill. Moe Assaad’s set design is also exemplary, skilfully adapting the La Boite stage into a multi-tiered home and restaurant with distinct zones, and a particularly fun elevating toilet (it makes sense when you see it).
It is always refreshing when a major theatre company like La Boite throws its support behind new work, particularly work that gives voice to the unique experience of marginalised populations, whatever form that marginalisation takes. With much of the opening night audience giving a standing ovation at curtain call, Single Asian Female is a truly fun night at the theatre, and will no doubt charm audiences for many years to come.
Single Asian Female is at La Boite until 9 March 2019.