There is something deeply satisfying in seeing a play about a woman (ornery, beautiful, strong, and delicate) which is written, directed, designed, and performed by women. Lest I sound too single minded or worse, I have been watching films from the last century and am still astonished at how few women appear in any of them, or at least women of any substance. Here is the unapologetic story of the life of a remarkable woman Kioko Tanaka-Goto, who did not just survive the journey from Japan to Canada, but also thrived.
In Mizushōbai by Julie Tamiko Manning and directed by Yvette Nolan we meet Kiyoko Tanaka-Goto first as a four year old, and then as a nineteen year old who leaves her mother and siblings in Japan to come to Canada to find her father. She marries and is widowed and then marries again but on the way learns that she can earn enough to support her family in Japan best by entering the water trade, or as the madame of bordello. The years pass and in Tamiko Manning’s clever script, the heroine appears at different ages, occasionally arguing with herself about different versions of the past.
There was a feisty kind of delicacy to this play and the writing never fails the complex structure. The idea that one remembers events differently as one grows older is beautifully rendered by the women on stage. All of this is contained in a stunningly designed set which was created by Jawon Kang. The lighting was evocative, and the sound was just subtle enough and at times emotionally in tune.
The performances were given with a delicate and exquisite tone, and combined to deliver the remarkable story of an unforgettable Japanese Canadian woman, Kiyoko Tanaka-Goto. The costumes by Mayumi Ide-Bergeron were stolen only two days before and miraculously they were perfectly reconstructed by opening night.
This is the kind of unique and magical play one has come to expect from Tableau D’Hôte Theatre. Catch it before it is gone.
Mizushōbai is at The Segal Centre (5170 Chem. de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, QC H3W 1M7) from October 10-22, 2023. Tickets HERE.
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