Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Review: Single Asian Female

6 June 2019

It is not often I see myself portrayed on stage, but the family that Michelle Law created in her debut play Single Asian Female is refreshingly familiar. The Wongs are three women on the verge of life-changing events. Pearl’s divorce is finally finalized, but she faces another problem; Zoe struggles to navigate being single and finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand; and Mei is just shy of finishing high school.

Pearl is passive-aggressive and nags at her children, but her love for them is boundless and the way she shows it is particularly familiar. She makes them plates of food as a form of an apology and spends the night altering a cheong sam for Mei to wear to her formal. She is straightforward but subtle, a trait that I find in my own mother and was surprised to see portrayed on stage.

The play opens with Pearl’s triumphant karaoke rendition of ‘I Will Survive’, followed by a monologue that’s punchy, funny and hits some political notes about immigration and racism in Australia. The first act sets up the struggles of the three women – Pearl is keeping a secret from her children, Zoe needs to make a decision about her pregnancy and her career as a professional violinist and Mei tries to balance her identity as Asian-Australian. They address cultural stereotypes early on, with Mei’s tantrum over her Asian belongings such as jelly shoes, pink puffer jacket, Hello Kitty sheets and a comically large Doreamon head. Mei’s struggles are externalized through her two friends: Katie, who admires Asian culture (walking the fine line between fetishization and admiration), and Ana, who makes fun of Mei for her Asian heritage. These microaggressions from Ana and Mei’s need to fit in makes her distance herself from her culture, asking for ‘normal’ party snacks like sausage rolls instead of prawn crackers or spring rolls.

Law’s play hits home, a lot. In 90 minutes on a small, contained set, Law managed to encapsulate what it’s like to be single, Asian and female in Australia today. For a debut play, it is uniquely self-assured. Law knows the story she wants to tell, and does it very well. In Single Asian Female, the tensions are high and nerves are frayed, all of which accumulates and ends with an emotional explosion in act two. The tone shifts from light and funny to more serious and solemn as Pearl faces deportation due to her ex-husband’s poor financial decisions. The play takes a turn as they tackle the issue of immigration, a touchy subject for many countries right now. The change in tone was sudden and it stayed quite somber throughout the rest of the play as Mei and Zoe express to Paul (an immigration lawyer that Zoe went on a date with) why their mother deserves to return to Australia. The play tackles these issues head-on in a rather confronting manner. It was uncomfortable to sit through Pearl’s deportation, and rightfully so. This is an issue that happens to families every day, and their stories often go unheard.

Overall, Law’s debut play is a theatrical masterpiece. It is funny and light but also confronting and emotional. It accurately reflects the struggles of being single, Asian, and female in Australia, a refreshing story in Australia’s monocultural theatre scene. It is a play about family, culture and how we treat others. It is about kindness and love portrayed in a profoundly touching story about a family of first-generation immigrants. The only thing it lacks is Cantonese bangers!

Single Asian Female played 3-21 April at the Arts Centre as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

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