Feb 27

Lunchbox Theatre’s Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets has themes that resonate

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

The Wongs are celebrating Chinese New Year – except things are different this year. There is a special guest at the table and this addition launches feelings of betrayal, denial, anger and mistrust. Lunchbox Theatre’s production of the world premiere Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets by Dale Lee Kwong is an accurate portrayal of family expectations; in this case, a mother’s expectations of her only daughter. The story line is a bit flimsy at times and you have to suspend your disbelief on occasion, but the play and the characters resonate.

‘Ai Yah’ is an expression in Cantonese that can used in a variety of instances to express displeasure, surprise or blame. A perfect title for the play, it is repeated throughout. The play cuts to Jade Wong (Kelsey Verzotti) having Chinese food with her girlfriend Jennifer (Jamie Matchullis). They discuss going on another gay cruise and then the conversation leads to meeting the family. Jennifer hasn’t met Jade’s family and Jade is nervous to come out to them, but Jennifer insists on the relationship moving forward. In a comedic series of mistakes, Jennifer winds up meeting Jade’s dad Charlie (Ben Wong) at Jade’s apartment. They awkwardly converse and it leads to an invitation to Chinese New Year at the Wong’s. Things come to head when Lilian Wong (Chantelle Han) meets Jennifer and puts together the pieces about her daughter and Jennifer.

Benjamin Laird/Calgary Herald

The play presents a story that rings true, especially when Charlie explains Lilian doesn’t want to lose status or when Lilian keeps asking Jade if she is sure. There is also the idea that Jade’s sexuality is something that she chose. That the conflict that comes to a head at Chinese New Year dinner resonates, because we’ve all been there, having the same sort of conversation at an important family meal.

The cast settle into their roles on stage as part of the Wong family quite easily and Han’s performance as ‘Tsunami Lilian Wong’ is of note. She is stern and hard as Jade’s mom while Ben’s performance as Charlie is playful and warm. It all takes place on a set designed by Terry Gunvordahl, where different set pieces move around to become Jade’s apartment or the Wong’s house or a bubble tea shop. Everything is draped in red with lanterns hung in different places.

The play is quiet throughout the first half in terms of sound design, though it picks up a bit in the second half. Rebecca Toon’s costuming has the Wong family in special Chinese outfits for the New Year.

Kwong’s writing is humourous and charming and the play has punches of humour within the conflict. Director Trevor Reuger ensures that the conflict and drama in present while having those light moments interspersed. It makes for a well balanced story.

Lunchbox Theatre’s Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets runs until March 10th. More information is available online.


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