Last of the Suns
Produced by the Ma-Yi Theatre Company and directed by Chay Yew, Last of the Suns takes place on the general's 100th birthday. As the action begins, the old man's mind seems to be overrun by memories and mythological figures. Most prominent among these are the Monkey King (Eric Steinberg) and Eight Pig (Kati Kuroda). Both characters are derived from the classic 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West, which the general read over and over in his younger days. These two function as guides, alternately mocking the general and helping him to find a path toward personal redemption.
The other major story within the play is that of the general's granddaughter, Twila (Tess Lina). A former ice skating star, Twila disappeared five years before the action begins -- much to the embarrassment of her family -- and hasn't been heard from since then. Upon her grandfather's birthday, the prodigal daughter returns seeking forgiveness from the entire family but in particular from her mother, Ni Lee (Mia Katigbak).
One of the play's structural problems is that the connections between General Sun's dream world and his present-day life are never made clear. The Monkey King and Eight Pig tell the general that he must gain the forgiveness of May Lee (also played by Tess Lina), one of his former concubines, whom he had forced to undergo a torturous foot-binding process even after that custom had been abandoned by most Chinese for its mutilation of women's bodies. The importance of May Lee in the general's life is never completely explained. Are we to assume she is the mother of the general's youngest son, Ho Ping (Ron Nakahara), who is Twila's father and who takes in the general during his final days? This would make sense and would underscore the connections between the two plot threads, yet the information that we are given is agonizingly incomplete.
Nor is it clear how much of the general's dream world is, in fact, a reality. Ni Lee sees the figures of the Monkey King and Eight Pig, which indicates that they have a tangible presence. Provocatively, this makes them more than an old man's delusion. An earlier dream world scene features the general's First Wife (also played by Mia Katigbak) urging May Lee to go to the general so that they can escape the endless loop of his memories. The autonomy exhibited by these figures lends a concreteness to the dream world but, again, this is not fully explored.
If the script is unclear, the technical elements of the production are most definitely not. Sarah Lambert's stylish scenic design consists of an entirely white stage with a painted red circle in its center. James Vermeulen's lighting design takes advantage of the blankness of the set to create complete environments through color and focus; for example, the opening moments of the play are top lit by a harsh white light, creating a stark and almost frightening picture.
Pun Bandhu as Sonny (Ho Ping and Ni Lee's other child) brings a freshness and energy to his scenes; his initial entrance, made while performing an Asian American rap is both hilarious and invigorating. The only major disappointment among the cast is Lina in her dual roles as Twila and May Lee. The actress seems unable to get underneath the surface emotions of these characters; the undercurrent of fear, guilt, anger, and accusation is there in the writing but, in Lina's interpretation, comes across as one-note whining.