Gateway Theatre opened its 35th Season with a production of Marjorie Chan’s China Doll. Ms Chan directs and revisits her 2004 play, inspired by Ibsen’s The Dollhouse, to bring it to the Gateway stage.
A period drama, telling the story of Su-Ling’s (Jennifer Tong) early life as she grows from 5 to 16 years. Starting with the traditional binding of her feet, to keep her feet dainty and make her more marriageable. The orphaned Su-Ling is raised by her traditional, and social climbing, Poa-Poa (Manami Hara) who is determined that she will marry well and bring prosperity to them both. Set in the time of China’s cultural upheaval Su-Ling is torn between two worlds, the traditions of her grandmother’s era, and the new world opening up to her as she learns to read by Merchant Li (Jovanni Sy). Seeing new possibilities and horizons, Su-Ling’s burgeoning independence puts her on a dangerous path.
China Doll focuses on Poa-Poa’s tunnel vision of marrying Su-Ling off to a wealthy suitor, no matter how worthy he may or may not be. Historical and cultural references are hinted at, which I would have been interested to see more interwoven into the story. Merchant Li’s initial revolutionary leanings seem to be left behind as his paternal-like relationship with Su-Ling grows, bordering on uncomfortable at times.
Heipo Leung’s simple stage set creatively let’s the audience imagine the indoor and outdoor settings. With such a simple set serving as multiple locations, the scene transitions were mainly defined by lighting cues, that felt a little too subtle at times. China Doll is an interesting work, juggling generational and cultural conflicts with the struggles that every adolescent goes through in seeking to gain their independence.
Presented with traditional and simplified Chinese surtitles, China Doll runs at the Gateway Theatre until October 26, special performances include Tea Matinee Tuesday October 22, Wine Wednesday (afterplay) October 23, and Talkback Thursday October 24. Find details, and tickets at gatewaytheatre.com