Monkey and I went to see Takeaway last n…

Monkey and I went to see Takeaway last night, at the Royal Theatre Stratford East.  On paper, the show should have been at least decent.  The writers are a faculty member from Tisch NYC and a graduate with titles and awards.  The cast have done stints on television and West End (from BBC to The Lion King, for goodness’ sakes).  As far as foundations go, this should have been a no brainer.




Let me get the technical elements out of the way, bullet style.

  • Tighten it the hell up.  Seriously.  A dramatic play can get away with being 2.5 hours long.  A light-hearted musical cannot.
  • Decide if you are going to have a female best friend or guy buddy in addition to the love triangle.  Both is overkill.
  • Cut the funeral scene ENTIRELY.  It does nothing to advance the plot, and considering the rest of the show was so damn farsical, I honestly could not tell till the end of the scene if it was a flashback or dream sequence.
  • If you are going to do fast patter lines, E-NUN-CI-ATE.  For reference, listen to “Another Hundred People” from Company.  It’s bad enough I have to get past the heavy East London accents, don’t shoot yourself in the foot twice by slogging through the lines all mumble-mouthed.
  • Get rid of the Guardian Angel character – you could do the same scene by moving the Eddie/Widow Chu scene a bit further back to the same effect.
  • Decide what you want to be, a boutique musical or a public musical.  A boutique musical is a musical that plays very specifically to a subsection of society.  Think “Menopause the Musical”.  It won’t play Broadway, but it can strongly tour.  A public musical is something that can sit in a house for a month to 5 years (Broadway, theatre districts, etc), and tour (Cats, Les Mis, Lend Me a Tenor).  In this draft, it CANNOT be a public musical.  But as far as a boutique musical goes…well…that leads us to the non technical critique.

The premise of the show is relatively simple:  A son of immigrants feels lost, and wants to find his way in the world.  This is not a difficult concept to put across to the audience.  I have said it before, but it needs saying again:  Just because I haven’t gone through the exact situation on the stage doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with what I see.  I have never seen 17th century French patriots on-line for Les Mis.  I have never seen a queue of felines at TKTS to get half price tickets for Cats.  People see these shows over and over because they see a part of themselves in the characters.  I want to root for the characters on stage – I want them to succeed.  But the people I saw on stage weren’t…people.  That sounds awful, but it’s true.  They were caricatures.  There was the browbeaten son versus the overachieving father (who, to be fair, seemed to be the most grounded and accessible of characters).  There was the militant ‘yellow power’ freedom fighter and then African princess with ‘yellow fever’ (I hate that term so fucking much).  There was the other-race best friend and the latent gay buddy.  And of course, there was the HK expat Dragon Lady and the off-the-boat immigrant, whose only solo consisted of singing ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’ over and over.  I didn’t want to root for these people; I wanted to shake a few of them.

Past the characters, it doesn’t get much better.  There was a convoluted plot with no real resolution, tertiary characters that did nothing to advance the story, and a completely wasted finale.  There were scenes of utter boredom (the duet between the boys was a yawner), scenes of embarrassment (clothed simulated sex within the first 10 minutes), and scenes which made absolutely no damn sense (the bloody funeral scene).  In fact, there was only one really good exchange in the entire play.  Widow Chu and Eddie are alone in the takeaway, and Widow calls out Eddie on his dislike of her.  She says:

Edmond…There is something your generation never understand about the older generation.  You always say you a trapped between two world; the western and traditional.  You think you friend is the western and your parent is the traditional.  Never think: we are over here, too.  Also trapped between the two world.  Your father and me, we are brought up with one set of values, but here, everything changed.  Worse than you, we cannot even speak the language well.  Barely understand each other.  Barely can read the package in the supermarket.  Is not just lonely in the heart.  Is lonely in the being.

That exchange was the one and only true moment.  It touched me, it pulled my heart.  While I am not the daughter of immigrants, I *understood* Widow’s pain.  I *felt* it.  If the rest of the play had stayed true to that monologue, it would have been a blockbuster.  Instead, it was as if the writers decided to throw every cliche about British born Chinese at the wall and hoped that enough would stick to make a coherent play.  It’s sad.  It’s a waste.

I don’t mind ‘shock’ or ‘offensive’ plays (Avenue Q or Book of Mormon).  I don’t mind time and place specific plays (Flower Drum Song or Show Boat).  I don’t mind over the top silly plot plays (Spamalot, Priscilla Queen of the Desert).  But Takeaway hasn’t yet figured out what it wants to be, and in straddling the fence, it fails on all counts.  For what it’s worth, I think the show is salvageable.  They need to go through it from start to finish with a fine toothed comb and think at all times “Does this reflect what Widow Chu says?”, and if it doesn’t, trash it.  I bet if they do, they will chop an hour off the show and come out with a clean, light-hearted and feel good musical.  If not…well, I doubt we’ll hear from it again.

Last night before we went to sleep I apologized to Monkey for the night.  He said it was okay, he wasn’t expecting it to be great, or even very good. He had apparently resigned himself to the fact that he would never see himself accurately represented on stage or screen; that is so sad to me.  I hope one day he actually gets to see himself on-stage without cringing.  I hope one day Baby Alex will get to see himself accurately portrayed.  Till then, we have Takeaway.