Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Towards Reconciliation: Immigration in Marty Chan's the Forbidden Phoenix and David Yee's Lady in the Red Dress

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Towards Reconciliation: Immigration in Marty Chan's the Forbidden Phoenix and David Yee's Lady in the Red Dress

Article excerpt

Reconcile: To bring (a person) again into friendly relations to or with (oneself or another) after an estrangement. (1)

Another chapter in Canada's immigration history was written on June 22, 2006, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public government apology to people of Chinese descent who suffered injustices during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His speech was widely seen on television and well documented for future references and generations:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to formally turn the page on an unfortunate period in Canada's past [...] I speak, of course, of the head tax that was imposed on Chinese immigrants to this country, as well as the other restrictive measures that followed. The Canada we know today would not exist were it not for the efforts of the Chinese labourers who began to arrive in the mid-nineteenth century. ("Address")

The apology included an announcement of formal redress, which provided individuals who paid the Chinese Head Tax (or their living spouses) with $20,000 in compensation. Although few of these men were still alive to personally receive the payments, the declaration itself marked a key chapter in Canada's legislative and cultural history. However, while it may seem that some level of settlement and closure has been achieved on this issue, theatre artist Guillermo Verdecchia has reflected on this public apology, declaring that, "while redress may be a done deal legally and politically, it's far from over psychically." Verdecchia's observation points to the long-term effects that repressive legislative acts have on "an individual's or a community's psychic life," acknowledging that events such as the government's redress settlement "marks the beginning rather than the end of a process towards justice, healing and reconciliation" ("Foreword").

At its most basic level, the term reconciliation often refers to an attempt at re-establishing trust and respect between groups, or improving relations with another individual or group, whereas the term redress often refers to an act of reparation, which may involve an apology, or payment, or symbolic compensation for a "wrong." Other scholars writing about reconciliation concur with this idea. Jennifer Henderson and Pauline Wakeham espouse the idea that "the culture of redress does not simply amount to a dynamic of demand and response through which scores are settled, debts repaid and apologies delivered; it effects a much wider epistemological restructuring" (10). Taking these pressing issues to hand, a growing number of scholars over the past decade have begun to theorize reconciliation. In particular, theatre scholars have contributed to this conversation by examining postcolonial theatre's potential to improve human relationships. (2)

This article argues that immigrant-themed plays such as David Yee's lady in the red dress and Marty Chan's The Forbidden Phoenix actively encourage readers and audiences to move towards reconciliation. (3) Such plays can be seen as part of a postcolonial critique advanced by playwrights interested in chronicling the history of social injustices and discrimination perpetrated against immigrants. Through their unique intercultural aesthetics and social commentary, these plays invite a renewed and critical view of Canadian history. The adjective "towards" suggests that reconciliatory processes are ongoing and incomplete when redress or financial payment has been achieved. Further, playwright Marjorie Chan suggests that plays written about Chinese Canadian history seem "compelled to reach back into our cultural heritage," providing a self-reflection while simultaneously looking "forward to complete the picture of ourselves" ("Preface," Love + Relasianships, Vol. 2, iv). The two plays under investigation offer a critical counterpoint to the commercially-oriented "attempt by mainstream theater companies to 'multiculturalize' their repertoires with the addition of works written and (sometimes) performed by minority artists" (Shimakawa 46), the concomitant practice of (re) appropriation, "and the vogue of intercultural productions of Western theater works" (46). …

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