Queer and Asian identities connect in this fiery play about learning to love in times of grief
Minh Ly's 'Ga Ting' brings together a white gay man with the Chinese parents of his boyfriend who passed away
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
"Ga Ting" is Cantonese for "family," and that's what lies at the heart of Minh Ly's uniquely bilingual play of the same name. The Toronto-based playwright debuted Ga Ting in Vancouver to two sold-out runs and is now bringing it home with a run as part of Toronto Fringe's Next Stage Theatre Festival.
The play follows an immigrant Chinese couple (Richard Tse and Loretta Yu) trying to come to terms with the death of their gay son through a dinner with his Caucasian boyfriend (Stephen Tracey) after the funeral — which the boyfriend had not been invited to.
"Basically it's about a pair of Chinese parents trying to get to know their son through this boyfriend over the course of dinner," Ly tells CBC Arts. "So the themes that it deals with are generational and cultural clashes, and really it's about how difficult it can be sometimes to communicate with people you love."
Ga Ting is Ly's first professionally produced play and was born out of a desire to see a specific type of diversity on stage.
"Basically, a few years ago I had an opportunity in Vancouver to work on a play and I wanted to write a piece that involved some Asian actors," he says. "And I decided I definitely wanted a pair of older, more mature Asian actors on stage with a white dude. That was basically the vision I had: a play that opens with two middle-aged Asian actors with a white guy on stage. I thought that would be interesting. And that turned into the story."
Four years after its initial premiere, Ly is teaming up with director Aaron Jan to bring the story that evolved from that to a Toronto stage as part of a collaboration between The Artillery Collective, Next Stage and the Ga Ting Company. When Jan decided to come on board, he told Ly three things.
"I told him, 'I'm going to make you a star,' which is not true," Jan laughs. "I told him, 'I'm going to help you sell out,' which may or may not be true. But most importantly, I told him I wanted to find the magic in this play. Because the play is about a son who kills himself, and the family's kind of unpacking his room and unpacking his life and the boyfriend comes over and asks why he wasn't invited to the funeral. So I wanted to see like how the son's presence could still be in the show without having a ghost actor on stage. So I think that's kind of been the fun challenge of the show — knowing in a cursory way what the celebrated Vancouver production was, and finding a new life for it in Toronto."
Ly says he hopes that new life involves audience members that extend beyond the representation on the stage.
"This is going to sound really cliché," he says, "but I truly believe you don't need to be queer or Asian to connect to the core themes of the play: trying to communicate and trying to love properly."
Jan adds that beyond that, he thinks Ga Ting is a real opportunity for audiences to learn something about the grieving process.
"I think that one of my focuses when directing this play was that — I think that as a contemporary society, we're obsessed with these healing processes, these healing quests," he says. "Like, if I go through this ritual and I do this, then this will be accomplished. But I think what I love about the play and what I wanted to explore my vision of the play is that often these quests can be harmful. These quests of restoring justice and restoring order to try to move on can actually be corrosive to the people around them. So that's kind of what I want people take away from this: sometimes it's fine just to grieve and not force things to happen."
Ga Ting. Written by Minh Ly. Directed by Aaron Jan. Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto. Until January 20th. www.fringetoronto.com