Ah Kua Show
nytheatre.com review by Ben Trawick-Smith
August 21, 2010
A transgendered person is a man or woman who identifies with a different gender than that with which they were born. Frequently ostracized, this minority group fights for equal rights and acceptance in every corner of the globe. In Southeast Asia, a region with a tradition of religious fundamentalism and political upheaval, this struggle is often a matter of life and death. Living with few safety nets, these courageous men and women are easy targets for job discrimination, sexual abuse and assault.
This web of issues is at the heart of Ah Kua Show, a moving new solo play by Leona Lo. Lo is a transgendered woman based in Singapore, and her show examines both her own fight for tolerance and that of two trans women living in neighboring countries. Although the three characters are quite different from one another, their experiences are strikingly similar, and the bigotry they encounter is distressingly familiar to many Americans.
We first meet a young transgendered woman from rural Thailand, Nong, who discusses her experience moving to Bangkok. Speaking in short bursts of broken English, she relates her escape from a conservative village and subsequent relationship with an American investment banker. This last detail is a thread that is woven through the narratives of all three characters: trans women in Asia are common prey for Western men looking for easy sexual opportunities.
In the second part of the play, Lo describes the injustices she herself experiences as a trans woman in Singapore. With a model's face and a lilting, unplaceable accent, Lo is as fascinating a character as the others she impersonates. Although her style resembles an old-time movie star, she is disarmingly down-to-earth sharing the details of her life. What struck me about her story was not only the difficulty of being transgendered, but also the strength it takes for such a strong personality to thrive in a community that punishes difference.
The last character we meet is a young Malaysian sex worker living in New York. I found this stretch a bit less focused than the other two, although I admire Lo for including this woman's story without moral judgment. It was also refreshing to get the perspective of a trans person living within a staunchly Muslim country, as religious theocracies too easily silence the voices of sexual minorities.
It is important to note that the performance I saw suffered a technical glitch that left the theatre without sound. Lo's piece uses voiceovers extensively, and this problem greatly impacted the coherence of the narrative. As such, it is difficult to comment fully on of her script (according to a statement Lo made on her website, around a third of the show was wiped out).
That being said, there was enough compelling material here that I can heartily recommend Ah Kua Show. Lo is, by her own admission, a non-professional actor, yet she is an engaging performer who has created a remarkably lifelike set of characters. She, and others like her, have a story that deserves a worldwide audience.