Renee Liang’s Under the Same Moon is a tale that explores the relationships between three generations of women taking us from Hong Kong all the way to Aotearoa.
Por Por (meaning grandmother in Cantonese) is our first introduction to Hweiling Ow’s talented shape-shifting as she plays ten characters within the hour’s drama. This feisty grandma has decided to escape her rest home and attend her grand-daughter’s wedding bringing with her of course traditional thousand year eggs to ensure good luck. But her daughter Lorna, who we discover is estranged from her husband and now and has three girls of her own (Stella, Sarah and Stephanie) is far from pleased that her errant mother is on the loose.
The bride-to-be Sarah is beset with difficult decisions (will her wedding dress make her look like a meringue and why doesn’t her mother approve of her hippy hubby-to-be) while her elder sister Stella is lovesick at having left behind a boyfriend several years younger than her in London. And the youngest daughter, Stephanie, a graphic artist, seems to be the shy and retiring sister of the three.
At times, it seems to get a tad messy (and not just because all three daughters names start with S) but because the climax of the drama, i.e. this highly anticipated wedding, is shunted to the background with a series of other anecdotal excursions that are in themselves light, humorous and insightful yet do little to allow the different narratives to coalesce.
There are clues that perhaps Por Por is experiencing dementia (she tells her granddaughters she taught their mother how to cook yet we find this to be contrary to the truth when Lorna tells her children that their grandmother grew up in a rich household and never had to do any housework) and those moments are precious yet never fully explored. Similarly, the relationship between Lorna and her mother (the difficulty of putting her in a rest home and the knee-jerk decision to put her straight back on a plane) seems to have residual tensions that remain unresolved despite the apparent reconciliation at the end.
Also the three granddaughters seem to be experiencing all the joys and trials that are faced by young women as they come to decisions about partners, love, life and friendships but they seem to be slightly superficial with the exception being the genuine exchanges between the youngest Stephanie, and her Por Por.
But Liang is nothing if not ambitious and under the direction of director Theresa May Adams this engaging and potent commentary on women’s relationships makes a strong and memorable impression – even if the work is still in development. Against a bright red structure from which hangs numerous family photographs, and armed with few props, Hweiling Ow takes Liang’s sharp incisive writing and goes from a sky-diving, skinny dipping Granny to iPhone-thumbing technology savvy youngster with a quick straightening of her back and change in her facial expression. Her accent work is excellent but on opening night there seem to be a few stumbles.
The musical choices are good, especially for enabling the audience to follow the change in characters, and the repeated tango music affirms that this could be a version of Por Por’s truth.
Considering the scope of the work, it is tempting to imagine how the drama would unfold with a bigger cast. The other area of slight confusion is the blurring of realities and occasional dreamscape sequences that seem to flow between the past and present which seem out of place (unless it really is all through the subjective memories). This occasionally undermines what appears to be the unifying theme: whether under the skies of Hong Kong or Auckland the same moon shines upon all womenfolk, and that is perhaps one of the most beautiful, poignant sub-themes of the work.
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