BWW Review: Powerful Women Rise and Fall in LADY SUNRISE
Factory Theatre's LADY SUNRISE, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, tells the story of a group of vastly different diasporic Asian-Canadian women living in Vancouver. Despite their different places in life they all come to be connected through a single business deal, brought to life through ex-pageant girl and model Penny's (Lindsay Wu) connection to a shady condo developer, bringing her non-related auntie Tawny (Ma-Anne Dionisio) along as her financier.
As the deal struggles to stand and Penny's materialistic habits start to pile up on her, women from both upper and lower social classes start to enter the narrative. Playwright Marjorie Chan's script outlines a chance interaction between a bank executive and a masseuse, a monologue from the dealer at the casino Penny haunts, and a confrontation between a poor girl on the street and Penny as she walks home from the club one night.
Aquino's staging of these scenes and conversations takes place on several horizontal beams that run the length of the stage (set design by Camellia Koo), each growing steeper in incline and shorter in length as they reach the highest point possible in the theatre's space. These beams are a not-so-subtle way of reminding the audience where characters stand - literally and metaphorically - and depict who in each scene has the higher ground via morality or social standing. Factory Theatre's production also benefits from having an almost entirely female creative team, whose influences undoubtedly root the dramatics of Chan's work in realism.
There are a lot of smart decisions made in the staging, and equally important moves made by actors in presenting these varied characters as realistic people. Each are shown to struggle with defining themselves and their place in the world; perhaps none more than Penny, who Wu plays with a razor-sharp precision. She is both the life of the party, a true girly girl, and at the same time a heartbreaking, messy human being. Dionisio's composed Tawny is a woman motivated by emotion, however Dionisio's controlled, precise delivery is disarming at every twist in the narrative.
The remainder of the ensemble, made up of Belinda Corpuz, Zoé Doyle, Rosie Simon, and Louisa Zhu, deliver equally strong performances. An especially memorable performance comes from Corpuz as the girl who confronts Penny on the street, Sherry (Belinda Corpuz). Corpuz has the least amount of stage time, but delivers a few raw, gripping moments that are difficult to watch but impossible to look away from. Despite strong character performances, there are moments where the ensemble enter dressed in trench coats and neon blunt bob wigs to do interpretive movement to monologues. These didn't fit as well with the narrative, and the clacking of heels and shuffling as they moved distracted from the lines being delivered.
LADY SUNRISE is one of those rare works that takes the time to build its female characters up through their fears, desires, and flaws, and does so with no male gaze. Men are not erased from this world, though; the effects of the patriarchal society these women live in are seen, heard, and felt by and through the women of the story. However, one huge strength LADY SUNRISE boasts is that these women are not compelled to help one another because of their gender - each have their own goals, and their refusal to be swayed or altered is brutally honest to the paths many women take to achieve success in a male-dominated world.
Factory Theatre's LADY SUNRISE runs through March 8 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.factorytheatre.ca/2019-20-season/lady-sunrise/
Photo credit: Joseph Michael Photography