No Foreigners: an epic intimate quest in a haunted and haunting shopping mall - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto
No Foreigners: an epic intimate quest in a haunted and haunting shopping mall 22 February 2018
by Drew Rowsome -
Beginning with its opening comic set piece, No Foreigners delights in confounding expectations. A good-looking man (in actuality a well-built action figure who is a parody of masculine power) tries to buy a Hermes bag from an Asian shopkeeper who is 117 years old. She refuses to serve him because he, being Canadian born, is not Chinese enough and she has a strict "No foreigners" policy. He sets out on a quest that upends and riffs on stereotypes, consumerism, cultural identity and the meaning of life itself. The humour is deadpan, hilarious and razor sharp, leaving assumptions and ideas roiling in one's brain.
No Foreigners is as entertaining as it is clever. More performance art than traditional theatre, the plot matters less than the copious references that are touchstones. There is a quest that melds Star Wars with The Monkey King, an epic martial arts battle between puppets and ninjas, selfies with a sufi who also traffics in bootleg DVDs, a bitter married couple who may have the solution for retail's decline, the ubiquity of George Michael, and many mystical pronouncements in a parody of Confucius, new age blather and fortune cookies. It is a headtripping mix that somehow, despite being partially in Cantonese and surtitled, is resolutely coherent.
Set in a gigantic shopping mall that is full of superstitions, clichés, and mysterious dangers (the "Mall Safety Guidelines" are hysterical and unnerving) we are plunged into a locale that is very familiar but, seen from a slightly different angle, as we view a culture other than our own, completely foreign. Maps morph into metaphorical moths that are really ghosts and it is best to just surrender to the ride. The action plays out on three stacked horizontal layers: a large screen where the main storyline and the surtitles are projected, a series of computer screens and models where the components are assembled, and the two actors who manipulate the figures, provide the voices and operate the cameras.
From where I sat, the actors were only occasionally visible so a crucial visual dimension was missing. It was only when Derek Chan rose from his chair for a star turn (that is too clever, uproarious and layered to be revealed in advance) that I became aware of what difficult work he and April Leung were making look and sound so easy. From then on my eyes and ears moved between the two sets of screens and the actors themselves, and No Foreigners opened from performance to three-dimensional immersion.
The text by David Yee winds itself into a coherent whole with only an epilogue that drags on portentously being a pause in the sage wit. The multi-media environment by Milton Lim, Remy Siu, Natalie Yin Gan, Chan and Leung is designed for contemplation and to place focus where it needs to be. That the pace begins slowly - another parody: this time of performance art and epic poetry - accelerates in the one moment when it needs to do so and earns big laughs and frisson of shock. I could have done without the excessive title sequence, the metaphor it introduces is already embedded in No Foreigners itself and the gag is already embedded in the scrolls.
For such a complicated, technologically and artistically, production, No Foreigners has a tragically brief run in a small theatre space. With luck that means that it will return in a larger format more suited to its creation of a new epic tale from the diaspora, but the current intimacy - an intimate epic? - is something to savour.
No Foreigners, a collaboration of fu-GEN Theatre and Hong Kong Exile in association with The Theatre Centre and Theatre Conspiracy, continues until Sun, Feb 25 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W. theatrecentre.org, fu-gen.org, hongkongexile.com