Journey to Home
Studio Theatre, Cultural Centre February 10-13
What immediately dismisses the thought of Journey to Home being another family cliché, even prior to the opening scene, is a cluster of the family photo frames— purposely yet inconspicuously placed sideways on the windowsill. What they display is half-seen by those living in this modest apartment and fully hidden from the audience, who are free to fill in the gaps with their imagination. Such underplayed suggestions, recurring in the taciturn dialogues, make actor-turns-playwright Santayana Li’s semi-autobiography a persuasive debut work.
The first scene is as swift (and telling) as one line – “You’ve arrived?” – which is uttered by a confused woman (Cecilia Ng Kit-yan) wearing one high-heel, holding the other in a hand, at the door. A quick blackout later, the woman is made to confront a backpacked girl (Kate Yeung) who isn’t going to feel at home in her estranged mother’s apartment in Taipei. Unable to take care even of herself, the woman, now twice divorced, answers her daughter’s request for a glass of water by giving the 18-year-old red wine and homemade veggie juice (her hangover remedy). The very same apartment set is simultaneously adopted as the teenager’s home in Hong Kong, where the inhibited relationship between her indolent elder sister (Kwok Chui-yi) and their reticent father (Chan Wing-chuen) is lucidly portrayed in intertwining scenes.
What the play lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in its unspoken sentiments. The perfunctory exchanges (done usually in a few syllables), the delayed responses and the speechless reactions are as lifelike as they are psychologically realistic. These nameless characters address their family members bluntly by pronoun – or none at all.
Whereas young Taiwanese actor Juan Shao-hong does a reasonable job as an outsider and a serendipitous confessor for the mother and daughter, Yeung’s occasional effort to imitate the playwright’s mannerisms as a pettish daughter comes as somewhat unnatural. Chan gives a painfully convincing performance as a stiff-necked father and a failed husband. It is especially hard for the audience to witness the man confronting his stroke and, even more so, his wounded ego. Yet, all the potentially poignant scenes are cleverly downplayed by the upbeat, falsetto interlude music by the Bee Gees (of which Li’s father is a die-hard fan), such as Staying Alive and Tragedy.
Thanks partly to the script’s light touches and partly to director Lee Chun-chow’s execution, the finale, which could very easily be reduced to a mawkish picture, is built up beautifully: the two middle-aged ex-lovers, (seemingly) being in the same room, look out of the windows, at once burdened by and unaware of each other’s presence.