A Deal

By Zhu Yi.  USU & Flying House Assembly.  Chippen Street Theatre, Chippendale.  Aug 22 – 31, 2019.

Reviewed : August 24, 2019

Photo : Kelvin Xu – Luky Studio

A Deal brings the work of two creative Chinese women to the Sydney theatre scene.

Billed as “China’s leading playwright”, Zhu Yi is an internationally acclaimed writer. Born in Shanghai, she moved to New York to study playwriting at Columbia State University. Her many works have been presented in Canada, Norway, China, Mexico, Italy, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A Deal was first produced in New York in 2017.

Director Shiya Lu is a producer, director and stage manager, founder of the Sydney-based artist collective Flying House Assembly, dedicated to promoting Chinese contemporary performance and cross-cultural collaboration in theatre and visual arts. Born in China, Lu has lived and worked in different countries in Europe and Asia, but now calls Sydney home.

Lu, with USU Bright Ideas and Flying House Assembly, has assembled an enthusiastic band of performers and creatives to bring this very topical play to the stage. It tells the story of a young actress from China whose parents have funded her fees and accommodation to study Arts in America. Anxious to win the leading role in a play that actually has a Chinese heroine and Chinese storyline, she invents a similar background for herself, namely an orphan and human rights victim. Unbeknown to her, her parents have smuggled one million dollars in cash from Shanghai to buy her an apartment in Manhattan.

The play uses humour and pathos to tell of the clash of values between Chinese parents and their more-worldly children. It touches lightly and comically, but nevertheless seriously, on past struggles, present success, nostalgia about things given up and lost, trust in ‘the system’ – where ever and whatever it may be – and the difficulty of “letting go”.

Photo : Kelvin Xu – Luky Studio

Katherine Nheu plays the young actor, Li Su. Shi-Kai Zhang and Susan Young play her doting parents. Together they establish a believable, tangible family bond that is, unfortunately ill-fated. Both Zhang and Young used comic timing well, exemplifying how Yi has used humour to temper the themes. Edric Hong, as a real estate agent – and Mrs Li’s former acting partner and boyfriend – also uses comedic skills effectively, suggesting his reactions with his eyes as effectively as his voice.

Simon Lee plays Josh, in whose play Li Su is performing and Abigail Coffey, Paul Chambers, Suzanne James and Sally Williams play a variety of supporting roles, including eager Chinese investors being ‘conned’ by a slippery sales person.

Zhu Yi’s play presents a multitude of opinions – at a time when all of them are even more in the public forum than when the play was first written.

Shiya Lu’s inclusive production makes a compelling point about the ‘politics’ of the Sydney theatre scene. Hopefully it will reach out to a wider audience than the intimate theatre in which it sees its Sydney premiere.