With just three chairs, directive lighting (Itzul Virgen), subtle sound (Ivan Robles), and minimal projections (Yee Eun Nam), writer/performer Nancy Ma creates a world filled with no fewer than fifteen characters. Ms. Ma displays physical and emotional agility in the telling of her own personal story as the daughter of Chinese immigrants who settle in New York’s Chinatown, eking out a living for themselves and their children through never-ending hard work.
When people ask, “Where are you from?”—a question that is only asked of certain immigrants—she always responds in a thoroughly American accent that she is American, born in New York City. Of course, the story is more complicated than that. In a fast-paced ninety minutes, she reveals the compelling story of her bi-lingual world, threading through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, winding up in the present moment, where she stands in front of a warmly receptive Los Angeles audience.
Ms. Ma displays the physical and facial agility of a mime as she creates her characters through posture and vocal inflection. Her older family—parents, uncles and grandmother—speak in the Toisanese dialect of their Chinese origins. Her father, a dominant character in the story, is an unpleasant, abusive chain smoker with a rude growling voice, who slouches with mouth downturned as he spews nasty words. Her mother, a seven day-a-week sweatshop seamstress is gentler. Grandma, old and bent over has a wispy voice barely audible. It doesn’t matter that the audience won’t understand Toisanese, Nancy makes sure that what is said comes across to the audience with vivid clarity.
Ms. Ma’s childhood was fraught, but she managed to get into New York’s famed Stuyvesant High School, an elite stepping stone to higher education, and on to Williams College and an unsuitable boy friend. After that she decamped to San Francisco and a job in law. How she came to be telling her story as an actor in a concrete box theatre in the basement of the Los Angeles Theatre Center and to a rapprochement with her family is the climax and dénouement of her performance.
Nancy Ma is an extraordinary performer with a great story to tell and deserves a wide audience.
Home, written and performed by Nancy Ma, directed by Geoffrey Rivas, stage managed by Cobalt McAvinue, and produced by The Latino Theater Company, is presented on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and on Sundays at 4pm, running through March 24 at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.