We the Family, the most recent play to be penned by acclaimed Canadian playwright George F. Walker, explores the fraught familial experiences that inter-cultural mixing engenders.
The play had its first performance at Hart House last Friday. It tells the story of the Lee’s and the Kaplan’s – Chinese and half-Jewish, half-Irish, respectively – two families who are navigating their newly forged relationship after the marriage of their son and their daughter. From the awkward conversations between the two matriarchs to the unsuspecting bond forged between the two youngest siblings, We the Family lays bare the sometimes racist and culturally insensitive thoughts that families of different cultures can harbour when they are brought together.
While the story is captivating, and the set design and musical composition deft in their execution, there were nevertheless some deeply unsettling aspects of the play that were difficult to ignore. In a time where tension and anxiety surrounding race is quite intense, We the Family attempts to make light of sensitive issues yet is unsuccessful in sparking critical thought by way of humour. As the largely white audience sat guffawing at stereotypical jokes about East Asians (their penchant to eat rice too much, how tiny they are, their love of suicide) the jokes began to feel unbalanced, pandering towards an audience that held little relation with the subjects themselves.
According to director Andrea Wasserman, We the Family showcases how “racism (innocuous or malicious) is something we all own and practice to varying degrees,” however this implies a level of awareness and understanding of racism that the play does not appear to possess. The actors were talented and dynamic, most notably Sarah Murphy-Dyson as the neurotic yet fragile Lizzie Kaplan. Yet the insensitive jokes distracted from the overall performance.
We The Family runs at Hart House theatre until October 3.