'Bad Parent' by Ins Choi
Virtually all parents experience self-doubt during any phase of parenthood. Ins Choi (Kim’s Convenience) zeroes in on this ordeal with his world premiere of ‘Bad Parent’ at Soulpepper Theatre. Covid postponed, this was a creation from partners Prairie Theatre Exchange and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre which then landed in Toronto.
The strength of this production comes from the extraordinary talents of performers Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu along with the dynamically comic writing of Ins Choi.
Even before curtain, it is clear that the ‘fourth wall’ has disappeared – banter between performers and audience begins pre-show. We become our own Greek chorus. The two parents reach for microphone stands and perform as in a nightclub which seemed incongruous on a child’s nursery set. The pace was slow and awkward, but it picked up during the play and the audience became more and more engaged.
On an Ikea-charged set, parents Norah and Charles struggle with self-doubt and zero confidence in their parental roles. As they relate these struggles, we begin to see some cracks in the adult relationship and some blame towards each other. Is their self-doubt internal or external? Each actor plays two roles and we meet Nora (without an h) who enters Charles’ world as a nanny with all the confidence that the parents lack. We also meet Dale who enters Norah’s world as a charming colleague in her professional world of work.
Both Ms. Jorge and Mr. Yu are spectacular in the interaction and changeover from character to character. Director Meg Roe would have a hand in this clever duality of roles. The switch from character to character is exceedingly subtle – the buttoning of a jacket, a slight change in voice, a small variation in gait. No Katy Perry costume bombs needed. Are the pair of characters different versions of themselves – perhaps a Jungian self-analysis?
They pull back from the brink of affairs, but Norah and Charles continue to claw at one another until full-bore explosions seemingly tear them apart. But we are always reminded that a two-year-old is not far away as his crying announces. The parents react with frustration, but are they frustrated with the crying or with their own lack of self-control?
As mentioned, the performers drive this production. Ms. Jorge’s pouty lips and big rolling eyes punctuate her wilting sarcasm. Her subtle pronunciation changes as Nora are perfect. Fine comic timing is displayed as she submits a ‘list’ for her divorce lobby. Her riotous tantrum is more effective because of her usual measured anger.
Mr. Yu’s explosions of frustration are also more striking in their rarity. A wonderful comic piece comes from his lying on the bed trying to cover himself with the fitted sheet. The pair work beautifully together as they slowly build to moments reminiscent of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
Towards the end, we learn of intergenerational conflict, childhood bullying and career frustration. Again, is this about the child or the parents? It is notable that the title is ‘Bad Parent’ and not ‘Parents.’ Are they blaming themselves individually or are they blaming each other? The audience is subjected to some very effective pregnant pauses where we have a chance to ponder these questions.
With festive confetti clinging sadly to the bottom of Norah’s feet, director Meg Row leaves us with a tableau of still-terrified parents. They might have learned to cling to each other, but the fear is still there. Two-year-olds become ten year olds, then teenagers, then young adults, and then, oh my, grandchildren!
‘Bad Parent’ – Ins Choi
Performers – Josette Jorge, Raugi Yu
Director – Meg Roe
Sound Design – Deanna H. Choi
Lighting Design – Gerald King
Production runs through October 9, 2022.
Tickets – www.soulpepper.ca