JUNE 2023 | Volume 228


Production image

Photo Credit: Chelsey Stuyt Photography.

God Said This
by Leah Nanako Winkler
Pacific Theatre
June 2-24
$37.50 or 604-731-5518

A woman lies in a hospital bed, suffering the effects of chemo as she struggles with late-stage cancer. Her dysfunctional family gathers round. How will her illness catalyze the family?

The Dysfunctional Family Play is among the most familiar of realist genres. Japanese-American playwright Leah Nanako Winkler’s God Said This rings minor changes on its somewhat predictable arc, but the strong acting in Kaitlin Williams’ Pacific Theatre production invests the downbeat story with power, poignancy and bracing humour.

We’re in rural Kentucky where good-natured Masako (Maki Yi) manages to maintain an upbeat attitude through even the worst of her nausea and pain—although a couple of exceptions to her stoicism prove to be among the play’s strongest moments. Her attentive married daughter, Sophie (Stephanie Wong), a born-again Christian, helps care for her. Her other daughter, slightly wild, slightly unstable Hiro (Yoshie Bancroft), has come back from New York for only the second time in fourteen years as Masako’s condition has worsened.

Hiro’s estrangement is due mainly to her father, James (Anthony F. Ingram), whose severe alcoholism made him angry, erratic and irresponsible. With his life at risk from liver failure, James is attempting reform, and we regularly hear him addressing his Alcoholics Anonymous group. Hiro refuses to forgive him, maintains a tense relationship with Sophie, but manages to renew her friendship with an old high school buddyand funny guy, John (Sebastien Archibald), They smoke dope together and trade candid confessions.

There’s not much more to the plot. The play unfolds on Alaia Hamer’s nearly bare set in a series of almost impressionistic scenes that reveal bits and pieces of the characters’ backstories and appear to move them towards some kind of tentative reconciliation.

The acting is consistently solid and Williams’ direction keeps nearly all the high-stakes moments from becoming emotionally overwrought. As the play’s still centre, Yi does a nice job of animating Masako while only once leaving her bed. Her good-natured optimism never seems forced.When the horror of her condition does break though, it’s devastating.

Wong has the toughest task, playing the good-girl sister. Her concern for her mother weighs her down, she nags Hiro to be a better daughter, and late in the play she reveals another personal burden. Wong avoids making Sophie too sad sack, and she delivers Sophie’s religion, which generates the play’s somewhat misleading title—because religion is not its central motivating force or concern—without giving it undue prominence.

If the play has a main protagonist, it’s Hiro, the insider-outsider with the strongest resistance and the furthest to grow. Bancroft overplays Hiro’s jumpiness at first, perhaps a case of opening night adrenaline. But she settles in nicely as the character gets more comfortable in her homecoming, and I found myself rooting for her at the end.

Winkler saves her best writing for the two male characters. We learn a lot about James’ life and regrets as an alcoholic, and Ingram invests the guy, who has managed to dodge an early death, with a sly, relaxed acceptance of his situation and a realistic view of what might be possible. Archibald’s John is a motormouth whose funny, earthy observations of his own life and Hiro’s make him in some ways the play’s most likeable character.

One final observation: despite the mid-South setting and the characters’ racial mix—Japanese Masako, her white husband and mixed-race daughters—race, surprisingly, plays almost no role in the drama. It’s simply a given.



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