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One person's story: a triumph

Lorraine Graves   Nov-13-2018

Tetsuro Shigematsu stars in his autobiographical play Empire of the Son at Gateway Theatre.

Photo by Raymond Shum

Gateway Theatre’s latest production opened on Friday, Nov 9. Empire of the Son, written by Tetsuro Shigematsu, directed by Richard Wolfe and produced by Vancouver Asian Theatre is perfect. Well worth seeing.

The play opens simply. It is a one-person, but many character, play. It is both intimate and global in scope. It is the dance between father and son played out over generations and, more intimately, between Shigematsu and his father.



The lighting and sound are done with finesse. When using his father’s microphone, the sound is distinctively different as it is when demonstrating surround sound. The sound design offered layers of depth in experience as did the lighting. During the play, when the fires blazed in the Shigematsu’s ancestral community, we could subtly hear the crackle as, at the top of the set, sticks arranged at seeming random, glowed red on the night the whole city was firebombed.

The table at the centre of the set included unnoticed miniatures, unnoticed until the camera is turned on. Then, whole scenes played out on the screen on the back wall, projected from the miniatures, to enrich the play.

A moment of seeming camera malfunction was handled with such grace that it seemed designed to be part of the play. Talking to Shigematsu at the reception after he said, “100 times in a row it all works fine, but that one time it doesn’t, shows how complicated it really is.”

The size of the crew for Empire of the Son tells that this seemingly simple one-man play has complexity behind the scenes, complexity that involves thoughtful design, good writing, and like a swan, the visible grace that belies the powerful footwork below the surface.

The word at the reception was unanimous, it was stellar. As we munched canapés from the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel that offered a tasty variety of pot stickers, individual cheese balls, mini-pitas with coronation chicken and frieze lettuce, as well as crab sushi, each person asked marvelled at the play, finding it moving with judiciously-placed, delicious humour that saved it from being too heavy at just the right moment.

While we struggled to act the sophisticates as we juggled the creamy mocha cake from Anna’s Cake House in our hands, licking our fingers and savouring every messy bite, we all discussed the play. One couple from the North Shore who had won their tickets to this play, their first in Richmond, said they would definitely be coming to Gateway productions again.

Yes, Empire of the Son at Gateway Theatre is well worth seeing. It’s so good that the entire run is sold out.

You can call the box office at (604) 270-1812for individual same day tickets, just in case some season ticket holders release their tickets.

Click here to see the video trailer for Empire of the Son.

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