How can one person transform herself into many people? How can one location turn into several without changing a thing? Go and see Café Daughter and you’ll find out.
Somehow, this one-woman show, based on a true story of an ethnically mixed young girl growing up in Saskatchewan, manages to pull it off.
Dawson City had the honour of being the site of the world premiere of the play, written by Kenneth T. Williams. It’s set in the 1950s, at a time when white women were legally forbidden to work in Chinese restaurants, and when a cousin of the playwright was treated as a slow learner because she wasn’t white.
Following the opening, Café Daughter was set to travel throughout the Yukon, offering matinees at various schools as well as evening performances in such communities as Mayo, Pelly Crossing, Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Teslin and Watson Lake.
The day before the May 4 premiere, a preview was offered to a small but enthusiastic audience in Dawson City. It was a chance for last minutes notes and changes to be made before the big premiere the next day.
From an audience member’s point of view, the preview went off without a hitch.
The main character in Café Daughter is Yvette Wong, played by PJ Prudat. Yvette is born to a Chinese father and Cree mother. On the eve of her graduation, she revisits the old café where she grew up.
She once again becomes the little girl she was, telling her story by narrating her thoughts and the actions of the other characters.
She also becomes these characters by adopting an accent, or offering one small gesture to distinguish that character. Not an easy feat when the characters all converse with each other, sometimes at an intense and quick pace.
Prudat crowds the stage with a father, mother, grandfather, auntie, teachers, principal, girlfriend, bullies, classmates and more.
She delivers each and every character with sincerity and honesty. We want to hug and comfort the scared little girl, laugh with the rebellious First Nation girlfriend, knock down the insensitive bullies, rage at the thoughtless teachers who discriminate and put down the dreams of youth.
Linda Leon’s set design of the old café is visually perfect for the story. Director Yvette Nolan’s double-duty use of some of the areas of the set is incredibly inventive.
For example, the bench in the lobby of the café also serves as the car that took Yvette’s family and sick mother back to the reserve; the counter holding the cash register becomes the mother’s sick bed and even Yvette’s own bed at one point.
The audience also visits a classroom, principal’s office, First Nation reserve, pizza joint and party house, to name a few. Actually, the characters never leave the café set, but the acting, blocking and dialogue are so believable, the audience isn’t given a chance to notice.
When Yvette goes into her sick mother’s room and crawls into bed with her, does anyone really see Prudat lying on the café counter by herself?
When the brash and confident First Nation friend tries to spruce up the shy and nerdy Yvette for a night of partying, does anyone really see Prudat dressing and dancing by herself?
Such was the power of the acting, dialogue and creativity of the movement around the stage, that the answer is no.
Café Daughter has a strong message to send about discrimination, ignorance and the strength of the human spirit. This is why Gwaandak Theatre, the Whitehorse-based company producing Café Daughter, has created a school study guide that is being distributed to participating schools and can also be downloaded from their website.
The goal of the tour’s school matinees is to increase the appreciation of theatre with youth audiences, while trying to remind us all that every one of us, regardless of background or culture, has the right to realize the full potential that is within us.
Café Daughter is a poignant, stirring and funny look at one girl’s journey to realize that potential.
Following a four-day run at the Guild Theatre May 11-14, Café Daughter will move on to Watson Lake, Teslin and Haines Junction.
Details about the tour and future Gwaandak productions can be found atwww.gwaandaktheatre.com.