If you’re not laughing, you’re crying. That’s what Pearl (Kat Tsz Hung) said in the second half of Single Asian Female, a play directed by Cassandra Tse, and she was pretty spot-on.
From the bright decorative lighting, to the sound of Chinese songs being played in the background, the set of the play draws you in like a warm and welcoming Chinese restaurant that’s bustling on a cold Autumn evening. For me, hearing the Chinese songs took me back to my childhood, when that was all that my parents would listen to.
Single Asian Female is a show that centres on a single mother and her two daughters. It tells an immensely witty yet touching tale of romance, cultural identity, and the importance of family. It’s a tale that is all too familiar, but just not one that has often been depicted in various forms of art.
As a Chinese female, it’s a strange feeling to see main characters who not only look like me, but also tell a story similar to my own, on stage. It felt like someone cracked me open and started reading me out loud to a crowd of several hundreds. To watch a play like this felt like a breath of fresh air in a muggy room.
In Western media, there is no shortage of depictions of Asian women as submissive characters, which is why this play felt all the more important. Pearl constantly reaffirms herself as a strong woman, and Kat Tsz Hung’s portrayal of her as a single mother reminds me of my own immigrant mother and her unfaltering strength. These stories hit different when they’re told by Chinese women because they understand us, all of the Chinese women in the audience. Michelle Law, the playwright, does a brilliant job of capturing the often strained relationship between a mother and her daughter, and the hopeless desire to be more ‘white,’ in her script. But it’s really the phenomenal performances of Kat Tsz Hung, Xana Tang, and Bridget Wong as the three leading women that brings this to life.
What I love about this piece is that it doesn’t focus solely on the fact that all three of these women are single, nor does it spend the majority of its time trying to find them a romantic interest. It embraces sexuality and freedom in singlehood, and also depicts the trials and tribulations of the dating world that are particular to Asian women. However, through all that, the relationship that is emphasised is the familial one between the three women, and that’s so refreshing to see. Despite the screaming matches between them and Pearl’s controlling tendencies, they’re there for each other. Zoe (Xana Tang) and Mei (Bridget Wong), much like myself and perhaps many other Chinese daughters, come to realise that everything that their mother does is ultimately done out of love, even if it doesn’t appear to be that way on the surface.
I now understand why this show got such glowing reviews. Not only does it keep you entertained for its entire run, but this is also a play that leaves you feeling simultaneously more empowered and more vulnerable than ever. It left me proud to call myself a single Asian female, because none of those three words should ever be made out to be deficits.