Woking Phoenix (Silk Bath Collective & Theatre Passe Muraille)

Anchored by an incandescent performance from Phoebe Hu as a single mom trying to raise three kids while running a small town’s only Chinese restaurant, Woking Phoenix is a delicate and moving tribute to immigrant parents, created by Silk Bath Collective and currently onstage at Theatre Passe Muraille through April 27.


The collective’s three lead artists- Aaron Jan, Bessie Cheng, and Gloria Mok- are all listed as co-creators, directors, and producers, marking the long-developed piece as a rare true collective creation. The value of multiple perspectives working collaboratively is evident in the play’s complexity as the pressures, hardships, rewards, and emotions of life in an immigrant family in Canada are explored from multiple, often conflicting, angles. Cheng also plays the family’s eldest daughter who escapes to the city, a deeply felt and subtle performance that, particularly in contrast with Madelaine Hodges’ equally effective turn as the youngest daughter who stays behind, highlights the intensity of sibling dynamics and how our decisions are never simply our own.


The movement elements of the play’s direction feel out of place at first in an otherwise fairly naturalistic production but, as the characters are more thoroughly explored and the full weight of what is left unsaid is understood, these physical moments of connection become some of the piece’s most moving sequences.


A lovely new work about family, sacrifice, and home, Woking Phoenix is layered and emotional while retaining its light touch and warm heart.


Falsettos (Bowtie Productions)

William Finn’s Falsettos is a strange, disjointed, ambitious piece of off-broadway musical theatre wherein a very small cast has to navigate a demanding score, demanding drama, and a truly wild range of tones from AIDS grief to absurdist cultural comedy to fun family baseball hijinks. Though it functions coherently as a two-act whole, the piece is actually two distinct one-act halves that vary noticeably in quality. Director Meredith Shedden’s confident production suffers a bit as the performers navigate the uneven terrain of the text and the boldest notes of the score but ultimately Shedden’s character-focused restraint and the manageable size of the piece sets Bowtie Productions up for success.


Act one, or “March of the Falsettos”, picks up during the fallout from a third one-act that was cut from the amalgamated version wherein Marvin (Taylor Long) leaves his wife (Olivia Daniels) and son (Max Goodman) for another man (Randy Lei Chang). Throwing the audience onto a train already in motion leaves the actors the brutal task of establishing backstory and relationships while simultaneously building current-action feelings onto that non-existent foundation. Unfortunately the deal-breaker chemistry between Long and Chang never really materializes but Long’s beautifully gentle voice is so perfectly suited to Finn’s score and Marvin’s arc that his inner life easily carries the audience through even when the external feels forced.


The first act’s scattered zaniness relaxes into a more coherent narrative in “Falsettoland” when external conflict takes over from interpersonal turmoil. The addition of two new characters also injects crucial energy, charm, and emotional stability into the unsteady peace of act one’s awkward quintet. Mona Hillis and Luca McPhee not only bring that chemistry that’d been heretofore missing but also dynamite voices and a lovely combination of brightness and depth, pulling act two up far above its predecessor.


Like nearly all independent musical theatre in the city, Falsettos has a bit of that dress-up feeling of young performers taking on a piece they’ve yet to fully mature into but the strength of Long’s leading performance helps to suspend that disbelief and ultimately Falsettos adds up to more than the sum of its disparate parts.