Feb 11

Thinking of Yu lacking in layers

by Jenna Shummoogum · 3 comments

There are those things in life that distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing. For some, it’s video games, for others it’s the internet in general. For Maggie, in Thinking of Yu, the opening play in Alberta Theatre Projects Enbridge playRites festival, it’s Yu Dongyue. Yu isn’t her lover, or brother or even located in the same country. Yu Dongyue has a fascinating story and Maggie has become intrigued by it, almost to the point of obsession.

The play tells of Maggie (Lindsay Burns) who spends her time locked up in her messy apartment, evading her translation work and generally avoiding the world. There are books piled everywhere and many half-opened boxes. She is still unpacking from moving in some time ago. She blows off her commitment to tutor the young Chinese immigrant Lin (Angie Wong) and elects to spend her time thinking of Yu Dongyue instead. He is a Chinese journalist who had recently been freed from prison after 17 years, for throwing paint on the portrait of Mao during the demonstrations of Tiananmen Square. He had been tortured and put in solitary confinement several times and is now mentally disabled. Two friends accompanied him in his act of defiance.
Maggie spends her time researching this incident on the internet and speculating at the motivation of the three men. In walks Jerry, (Allan Morgan) a lonely, friendly neighbour who is looking for some company. He offers to construct her some shelving while she works on translating her documents.

But it never happens. Maggie continues to obsess about the three men, writing letter to Yu Dongyue and then trashing them, conversing heatedly with both Jerry and Lin about their motivations for this act of defiance. The audience learns through narrative monologues about Maggie’s past, how she moved around and had her heart broken several times and it is slowly revealed that Maggie has been avoiding something bigger in her life. Through the interaction between Maggie and Jerry we learn about Jerry’s son and his past life.

Told with the use of projections, Thinking Of Yu is an examination of one incident in history. It dips and dives within metaphors about motivation and procrastination, looking at the value of this one act of defiance. Maggie looks at posters and images on the stage, and the projections of those images are then projected on the wall behind her. When she writes a letter, the script appears as well. This use of projection screen is a distraction from the story in front of us. The written script takes a long time to appear and disappear and the image clips are constantly in the background.

Thinking of Yu tries really hard to be compelling but misses the mark. The play lacks poignancy and the fact that most of the action takes place in the past alienates the audiences. The characters are flat, their actions and speeches motivated by only one thing. They lack intrigue and complexity. This is not a multi-layered play. This is the bare bones of a narrative that is missing the meat that an audience can sink their teeth into.

Burns does a good job as Maggie, trying her best to fill out the character. Morgan tries his best as Jerry, putting much emotion into a climaxing speech, but the outburst itself feels misplaced and the character too flat to be able to emit such emotion. Wong is sweet and energetic as Lin and adds a bit of spark to the storyline.

Thinking of Yu is a good start, and its heart in the right place, but needs more layers.

Thinking of Yu is part of Alberta Theatre Projects Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. The festival is entering its 26th year. Tickets are available at the door or at atplive.com

Photo Credit: Trudie Lee Photography


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