There’s something legitimately discomforting with the first half of Orientation.
It’s certainly not bad theatre; the music is sound, the lighting moody, and the acting … well, the acting. Maybe … no. The actors were on point and doing an excellent job.
It’s the story. There’s this level of cultural cringe as you experience the first half of the show that has you both wanting to howl with laughter as well as hide your face in shame. Which is the exact fucking point of going to a show like this. I’m being dead serious.
Written and directed by the talented Chye-Ling Huang, Orientation is not just a look at what exactly it means to be Asian in New Zealand, but at the same time also delves deeply into Asian sexuality. It’s confronting, to say the least, but it’s one which has been a long time coming. Especially as a man of Asian descent, to have stepped into the storyline you suddenly realise how racist your everyday encounters can, and sometimes do, become.
The words spoken on stage are almost verbatim of my own lived past experiences, with individual scenes a constant repetitive reminder of things I’ve both done and said. I wondered, at that point, whether I was too blind – it’s not the first time friends have commented I’m too Kiwi on the inside while possibly a tad too Asian on the outside.
As I sat there watching the stories unfold, the absurdity slowly decreased whilst an indomitable sense of sadness start to arise. The challenges the show brings struck stronger certainly to individuals who aren’t just a part of the scenery like your usual audience member. No, people like myself inhabit the very space that is being acted out in front of us.
And yet the giant fuck-up of sexual escapades mingling into an untangleable yarn with cultural and race politics stroke an imploringly funny, though at times messy, chord. The characters are all flawed, and as the stories carry out, contradict what they represented mere minutes before.
Brilliant acting has to be commended to the cast: Natasha Daniel’s Mei and Kyle Chuen’s Everymen gave stand out performances, especially the emotional final duologue as they screamed into each other’s faces.
At the same time the rest of the cast – Marwin Silerio’s body builder Kace, Mayen Mehta’s film maker Dhruv, and Eugene Yao’s actor Thomas – all pull their weight as venerable representations of Asian men. Especially worthy of note is Silerio’s moment of vulnerability at the end of his storyline; Kace’s realisation of reality is something I personally identify with, maybe a little too much.
There’s too much to be said about a piece of work like this, especially from a reviewer that’s not just culturally biased in Orientation’s favour, but also so, so very emotionally invested.
But don’t take my word for it – they’ve still got two more nights left to the show. Go, take a look, and form an opinion for yourself. You’d be crazy not to.