Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
Cahoots has billed this world premiere of ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ as authentic and irreverent. Franco Nguyen travels to Vietnam to look for inspiration for his first feature film and he finds an unexpected subject, his mother. Mr Nguyen then delves into the personal and shares stories about visiting Vietnam for the first time and being re-introduced to the mother he thought he knew.
This was my first visit to the Native Earth Performing Arts Centre, and it took me a few minutes to find the Studio. The Aki Studio is a larger black box theatre which worked extremely well for this production. There weren’t many audience members in attendance at this matinee, but the threat of nasty weather of blowing snow and high winds could have kept potential theatre goers away.
A shame there weren’t more as Mr. Nguyen has written a beautiful, funny, and poignant tribute about his family with all their weaknesses exposed. Who’s to say that any family is picture perfect?
Christine Urquhart’s Set Design was very simple. From my seat, it looked like a shag carpet was angled to one side. There was a TV set that would sometimes broadcast a black and white scene (I couldn’t tell if it was something from Vietnam) and then the tv would then receive interference. I bet you there aren’t many of us who remember when television sets used to get interference with the rabbit ears?
There is a suspended rectangular frame tilted to one side with another screen behind. During the performance, Mr. Nguyen straightens the rectangular frame.
Messrs. Abalos, Nguyen and Gamotin have written in their Directors’ Note they are or will become fathers very shortly. If anything, I’m almost sure this production would be a labour of love not only for these three gentlemen but also for all who worked on this production. Why? Even thought I’m not a parent, family members and close friends have told me (and I have seen) that having children changes life and the family unit becomes even more important.
And how true it is that family is of importance to me, and this production strongly underscores this reality. Mr. Nguyen narrates to us how his mother and father came to Canada, were married, and eventually divorced. Nguyen also narrates how he was, at times, an ‘average’ teenager who wanted nothing to do with his parents as he felt he knew better than they did .
Clad in a comfortable looking pullover sweater and I think khaki pants (but couldn’t tell from the back of the house), Franco Nguyen is a solid, likeable performer. He cordially invites the audience to journey with him and makes us feel very comfortable when he flashes his smile to us the first time. It was amusing to see his mother and father brought to life in Nguyen’s characterizations with his face and his eyes. I liked the moment where he narrates to us when his mother changes the locks on their door and father cannot enter and keeps knocking at the door. Nguyen switches back and forth from mother and father quickly which added a lot of humour to the situation but underscored even more how sad it was that the parent’s marriage slowly eroded away.
I like to sit near the back of the house as I want to know if the performer can be heard clearly. I could hear Mr. Nguyen clearly during his one-hour monologue. To perform a one-hour monologue is hard work as a natural sounding pacing is of the utmost importance to sustain audience interest. Mr. Nguyen achieved what he set out to do. Thankfully there are moments to watch on a projection which allowed him a quick opportunity to drink water before he continued.
The only slight quibble I did have was the fact there were a few moments where Mr. Nguyen maintained a static vocal level in his narration of events. It was extremely warm in the auditorium. When you combine warmth, heavy clothes because it’s winter and listening to a one level vocal tone, what could invariably happen? My attention span faltered a bit and I could feel my eyes closing. As ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ continues to tour out west, it might be a good idea to monitor temperature control in the auditorium.
Final Comments: ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ is a life affirming tribute to those ladies who gave each of us an opportunity to experience life, our mothers. Thumbs up to this one and thank you for a most enjoyable afternoon at the theatre.
‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ continues to March 3 at the Aki Studio in the Native Earth Performing Arts Centre, 585 Dundas Street East, Toronto. For further information please visit www.cahoots.ca or telephone 416-203-9000.
Running Time: approximately 60 minutes with no intermission
Direction: Bryon Abalos, Dramaturgy: Darrel Gamotin, Set Design: Christine Urquhart, Costume Design: Sim Suzer, Lighting Design: David DeGrow, Sound Design: Miquelon Rodriquez, Projection Design: Kevin Matthew Wong, Stage Management: Jordan Guetter,
Photo of Franco Nguyen by Dahlia Katz.