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The Jade in the Coal

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A common phenomenon facing Theatre UBC subscribers is that of “oh shit, I have tickets to a play tonight.” Getting all our tickets at once, it can often be a shock to remember just in time that you’ll be attending a play later that night. And so when my Google calendar decided to tell me that the Jade in the Coal was in five hours, it had entirely snuck up on me. I came into this play expecting little. I knew nothing about it, and the most recent plays I’ve seen have been a string of failures.

So it was a shockingly pleasant surprise that the play was actually good. First off, it was more than a play. For the most part, it was Cantonese Opera. My first Cantonese Opera, too. I really liked it. The impressive acrobatics done in the performance left me wishing that Western Opera were so visually dramatic. There were a lot of shouts of praise along the way, entirely deserved.

What also took me surprise was the story. I expected something pretty basic since it was opera. I instead got a stimulating exploration of the immigrant experience, set around Chinese coal miners come to Vancouver Island in 1900. The protagonist, Sally, is a first-generation Chinese-Canadian: too loudmouthed and headstrong to be accepted as a Chinese woman, but not accepted by the white Canadians as one of their own. Stuck between both cultures, Sally’s interactions with the other characters paints an environment of hope and disappointment. Around her are Chinese immigrants who had come to buy into the Canadian dream, only to be segregated off and to be overrun with requests to send money home.

Sally’s story, particularly the romantic subplot, is reinforced by the opera. A Cantonese opera troupe comes to town to perform, and their performance is dispersed throughout the play. It was well done and highly enjoyable. Worth your time to check it out.

Written by patitsas

November 27th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Elizabeth Patitsas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.