Two Filipino-Australian actors perform in a touching play about a mother's unconditional love and self-sacrifice.
I watched the play 'His Mother's Voice' with no expectations. I didn't even know it was on and went along on a friend's invite. She mentioned two of the actors in the play are Filipinos. This is a rarity in the Sydney theatre scene so I was in.
Imagine my surprise then when the play swept me off my feet with its story about a mother's self-sacrifice and courage in the face of adversity. Actress Renee Lim, who plays the central role as mom Yang Jia to Harry Tseng's Qian Liu, gave a moving portrayal of a piano teacher who lived in the wrong place at the wrong time - Shanghai, 1966, when it was a crime punishable by death to enjoy, or worse, teach Western music.
As the play is set during the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution in China, 'His Mother's Voice' was a welcome study to a dark chapter in Chinese history. Up until the play, I never thought much, nor fully appreciated, the struggle that millions of Chinese had to endure to survive that era - and the tough choices many had to make.
As for the casting, I almost wanted to clap out loud and do a fist-pump when Filipino-Australian actors John Gomez Goodway and Felino Dolloso walked onstage. One of the big things Filipinos miss out on when they migrate overseas is the vibrant Philippine-based arts and culture community.
In Manila, people are spoilt for choice. In Sydney, you can count on one hand, on any given year, the number of plays with Asian actors dominating the stage and based on an Asian narrative, 'His Mother's Voice' being one of them.
No wonder Goodway thought the play is significant on several levels.
"Many plays by the Asian community seem to target its own community, and a broader audience only as a side effect - I don't see this as a bad thing in any way. In contrast, 'His Mother's Voice' is really trying to connect to a wider, cross-cultural audience."
The play is also one of those rare productions where 10 out of a cast of 12 are Asian.
"It shows that Asian actors are castable in the Australian theatre and entertainment industry, and that we have some great stories waiting to be told," he said.
It wasn't like the production intended to make a big statement about injecting cultural diversity onto the Australian stage - more like a cultural awakening. Asian stories and Asian actors have a place in Australian theatre and not necessarily the fringe.
'His Mother's Voice' had its lighter moments, which made it doubly enjoyable, including the endearing performances of actors Monica Sayers and Alice Keohavong during the negotiation and arbitration scene.
The narrative will resonate with every Filipino-Australian who knows first hand what Filipino parents have to give up just so their kids can have a better life.
As mom Yang Jia said in one of her scenes, there are two things she can give to her son: love and preparation. Love comes naturally while preparation is a lot of hard work - the full meaning of which was explored, through a healthy mix of drama and comedy.
I did not expect to enjoy the play this much but I did. A huge credit to the writer Justin Fleming and director Suzanne Millar for shining the spotlight on a beautiful story that needed to be told. They did so with just the right amount of grit and grace.
Photos courtesy of Breathing Light Photography
His Mother's Voice
Until 17 May 2014
Wed - Saturday 7pm, Sunday 5pm
ATYP Studio 1, The Wharf (Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay)
02 9270 2400
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