MAY 2021 | Volume 203
Derek Chan’s yellow objects is a clever multidisciplinary attempt to create an agitprop drama about the current political situation in Hong Kong without any live actors. Through three interactive games (downloadable here:https://www.riceandbeanstheatre.com/yellowobjects), and a three-dimensional exhibition at the Firehall, Chan and his rice and beans theatre colleagues educate us about the protests in Hong Kong, the specific demands of the protesters, and some of the brutal methods the Chinese authorities and their Hong Kong accomplices have used to suppress them, while implicitly enlisting our support. “Yellow objects” is one of the milder insults hurled against the protesters by the government and its supporters.
As an old guy with minimal IT skills, I found the video games infuriatingly difficult to navigate. You don’t need to play the games before visiting the exhibition, but they help to clarify the first part of what unfolds on the Firehall stage. Through broadcast dialogue and lighting that illuminates various set pieces, we learn that we’re in 2051. A young woman is bearing the ashes of Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong Chief Executive who has been carrying out Beijing’s current crackdown on democracy and the protests. A voice from the spirit world challenges her. This was all too cutesy for my taste until a special effect involving a vibrating table, and a battle of shadow puppets in the afterlife.
The real story begins after about 15 minutes with a series of video projections re-situating us in 2019-21,explaining the protestors’ five demands of the Hong Kong authorities, followed by a segment in which we hear a protestor being tortured by a policeman in a prison cell. No human images appear, merely a diorama of an empty room, sound effects, and the voices of the torturer and the tortured. The exhibition ends in the courtyard. As we stare at a jumble of overturned chairs, a voice rallies us to stand with the protestors and resist the tyranny.Since COVID shut down live theatre, I have generally resisted watching plays presented via Zoom. The medium doesn’t translate well without liveness, and our theatres don’t have the financial means nor technological expertise to create theatre-TV events dynamic enough to keep me from wanting to change the channel. The Firehall event is being called an exhibition, not a play, and it is more like something you might experience at the VAG than what we’re used to seeing on a theatrical stage. Personally, I miss the living human beings too much to fully appreciate whatever this new genre might be. But I admire Chan, his company, and the Firehall’s courage in exploring new methods for making sense of the world during COVID, and their unequivocal support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement and the brave people putting their careers and lives on the line to keep the spark alive. And I very much appreciate the informational components of the show, helping me understand the exact stakes in this struggle.
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