As I scrounge for a seat in the yuppie cafe I have arranged for our meeting, I wonder how my interviewee will make his entrance. As a graduate of the prestigious acting program Studio 58, Minh Ly has worked on the CW Network and Showcase Network, as well as having toured with the Axis Theatre Company. I wanted to chat with him about the upcoming release of his first play (“you mean the first one that has been produced,” he clarifies with a grin later), Ga Ting, which is co-produced by the Frank Theatre Company and VACT in Vancouver.
The play, whose title translates to ‘Family’ in Cantonese, narrates the story of a meeting between a Chinese-Canadian couple and their deceased son’s white boyfriend. But the play does not illustrate the myth of non-white homophobia, as one might suspect. Instead, it promises a more nuanced, realistic and sympathetic view of loyalty and familial love.
After researching about the actor-turned-playwright’s extensive resume in theatre, film and television, I became curious of the persona I would encounter upon. But as soon as I spotted Minh Ly’s smile through the window, any suspicion of an inflated ego was quickly forgotten.
After brushing off the awkwardness of me initiating a handshake and him initiating a hug as we introduced ourselves, I ask him what had motivated him to write the script for Ga Ting. He mulls the question over briefly and smiles. “I started off with an idea of having two Asian characters, unsure of who they would be, and a white guy sitting together,” he explains. “I thought it’d be an intriguing image to start a play with, not knowing what the story would be.”
As a play that chronicles the confrontation between cultures and stereotypes, I ask Minh Ly about his thoughts on having the script be pigeonholed into the restrictive categories of “a coming-out queer story” or “an Asian story.”
“I don’t think I write with themes in mind,” he says. “They kind of organically appear throughout creating the story. The themes evolve into what they are.” He thinks for a moment before adding, “As for the material, I want this show to stir up dialogue amongst not just Chinese families or communities, but really any community where the topic of homosexuality is really taboo.”
When asked the ways in which his personal identity has affected the writing of Ga Ting, Ly replies, “It’s hard for me to identify in one specific way, it’s more that my experiences influence this piece. It’s not necessarily me, but it’s what I’ve been through that affects the show.”
He adds that his goal is to make the production as accessible as possible. This may be the reason behind his decision to surtitle the entire play, in the tradition of the opera. The Cantonese lines are projected in English and the English lines are likewise projected in Cantonese. In addition, two shows include ASL interpretation.
It is obvious that Ly wants to present the issues in the play as, in many ways, universal. If there is one message that he hopes the audience will receive from the play, he says that it would be “to communicate with loved ones, even though it might be hard sometimes.”
As we approach the end of our interview, I ask Minh if there is a question that he would like me to ask him. He hesitates before offering, “At the end of the day, I don’t know what the question is, but I know what I want to say.” I smile in response to his honesty. “I’m first and foremost an actor,” he says, “but often as an actor, I often wake up feeling selfish doing what I do, like I’m not changing the world in any way or solving any issues.”
He is quiet for a moment longer, and by this point, it is obvious that Minh is an individual who thinks before he speaks. It is a good sign of an artist who uses his space thoughtfully and considerably.
“In writing a show, it feels like I’m doing more and starting a dialogue. And hopefully, people can relate. And in telling stories that are taboo, I hope it inspires.”
Ga Ting will be premiering at Richmond Cultural Centre from March 22 to March 30. For additional information regarding show times and ticket prices, visit www.vact.ca