Jan 19

Empire of the Son lacking its own emotional availability

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s relationship with his father wasn’t exactly what he wanted it to be. He even confesses to not really liking his father in his solo theatre production Empire of the Son. It’s okay though, because his father, Akira Shigematsu had his own criticisms of his son, telling the audience that his son would make fun of his accent and how all he does is tell stories. He even made a one man show with these stories.

Empire of the Son is a solo play of stories, tied together in a theatrical way of a son’s relationship with his father and how he often couldn’t express what that relationship meant to him.

Shigematsu talks about his father leaving Japan and travelling to London, England. He talks about his life growing up with his dad and how his father never really expressed his feelings-and never cried. A short video, showing Tetsuro’s kids and how they think he has never cried as an adult reiterates their beliefs of his lack of emotional availability. “That trait got passed on,” he remarks.

We hear about Akira Shigematsu’s incredible life told in parts through audio clips, video clips, photographs and objects. Akira was a radio broadcaster who used to work for the CBC and when he immigrated to Canada. Tetsuro would follow in his father’s footsteps, as he was the host of The Roundup on CBC Radio. All of the stories blend and meld together to inform you about Akira’s life. It’s interesting and dear to our narrator’s heart, but the telling lacks tension. There is no conflict, no emotional pull, no drama in Empire of the Son. Though Shigematsu is talented and charismatic, there is still no connection between the audience and the characters on stage, maybe a telling of his own lack of emotional availability.

Pam Johnson’s set design is slick and thoughtful with a screen in the background that projects the cameras on a table in front of Shigematsu. He illustrates parts of his stories, using these cameras and small figurines or his fingers. It animates the stories and brings them to life. This aspect of the storytelling is fun to watch and adds a theatrical flair to the production.

Director Richard Wolfe does a good job of creating a narrative and pulling together a theme to base the play on, but doesn’t push hard enough. Shigematsu is talented and it is really nice to see a story from a Japanese cultural background on stage, it just isn’t quite enough.

Alberta Theatre Projects and One Yellow Rabbit Theatre’s production of Empire of the Son is part of the High Performance Rodeo. More information is available online.

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