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‘Between a Wok and a Hot Pot’ serves nourishing food for the stomach — and the soul

In “Between a Wok and a Hot Pot,” Amanda Lin is Mandy, preparing hot pot onstage, and telling stories about the history of the dish and her family’s connection to it.In “Between a Wok and a Hot Pot,” Amanda Lin is Mandy, preparing hot pot onstage, and telling stories about the history of the dish and her family’s connection to it.

Between a Wok and a Sizzling Pot

Written by Amanda Lin and directed by Esther Jun. Till Feb. 12 on the Theatre Centre’s BMO Incubator, 1115 Queen St. W. or 416-538-0988

You are reading: ‘Between a Wok and a Hot Pot’ serves nourishing food for the stomach — and the soul

The most important draw of “Between a Wok and a Sizzling Pot,” the most recent manufacturing by Toronto’s indie Cahoots Theatre, is most actually the meals.

For Amanda Lin’s debut play, the Theatre Centre’s BMO Incubator has reworked into a comfortable Taiwanese eatery, replete with pink lanterns hanging from the ceiling, kitsch knick-knacks strewn throughout the room and bygone-era posters appended to the partitions (immersively designed by Echo Zhou).

A lot of the viewers sits round six wood tables, the place they put together their very own Taiwanese-style scorching pot as Lin, enjoying an alter-ego character named “Mandy,” serves as a information, getting ready her simmering soup onstage, and telling tales in regards to the historical past of the dish and her household’s connection to it.

However as deliciously satisfying because the meals is in “Between a Wok and a Sizzling Pot” (Toronto theatre producers: extra dinner theatre, please!), Lin’s debut play additionally gives a lot meals for thought because it navigates themes of illustration and id, asking vital questions on what it means to be “Asian-Canadian” and the best way to authentically characterize these intersectional identities on the stage.

The set-up, a minimum of initially, is that of an “Asian-Canadian experimental dinner theatre,” as described by Lin early within the 80-minute play. It begins as an interactive cooking present, with Lin behind a wood counter, a digicam capturing all of the motion from overhead, as she prepares and explains every of the recent pot substances, whereas the eating viewers follows alongside.

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The tutorials are thoughtfully interspersed with tales from Lin’s household and childhood. She nimbly recounts the historical past of the recent pot in Taiwan, together with why many Taiwanese, together with her and her household, consult with the dish by its Japanese identify, shabu-shabu. (It’s as a result of Lin’s grandparents had been raised in Taiwan whereas it was a Japanese colony and had been due to this fact taught the Japanese language and tradition.)

Carrying a blue Chinese language shirt, Lin as Mandy demonstrates her customized recipe for the recent pot dipping sauce, because the viewers creates their very own, mixing numerous condiments. (Sizzling tip: don’t forgo the flavourful shacha sauce, which has a pleasant spicy kick.)

The proceedings, up till this level, are principally lighthearted and fairly humorous, with director Esther Jun’s dynamic staging making full use of the immersive setup. Lin exudes a warmly familial presence as she weaves across the house, checking in on diners all through.

She’s accompanied by Emily Jung’s brilliantly cheeky designs — principally of cartoon woks and animated meals offering a working background commentary — projected on three tv screens across the house.

Then, there’s Olivia Wheeler’s mockingly hilarious sound design with a thoughts of its personal. In a single second of sly comedy, after Lin tells viewers members to not be shy and lift their palms in the event that they want steel cutlery as a substitute of chopsticks, a voice comes from the speaker system and whispers, “Disgrace, disgrace, disgrace,” to guffaw-worthy impact.

“Between a Wok and a Sizzling Pot,” nonetheless, isn’t all foodie enjoyable and video games. Lin’s script, which she started writing as a scholar at Queen’s College greater than 4 years in the past, is smarter than it first seems, reworking right into a subversive critique of the “id play” style it initially units itself as much as be.

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The dinner theatre present, Mandy explains, is funded by meals firm Kikkoman, the fictional Canada Council for Larger Variety within the Arts and the (additionally fictional) Dumplings & Variety initiative. All through, the suffocating presence of those funders is a recurring theme in Lin’s play, elevating vital questions on how private tales are advised within the theatre — significantly in indie theatre, the place many creators rely largely on exterior grants and funders.

Are theatremakers actually producing the tales they wish to inform? Or are they producing the tales audiences and funders need them to inform?

When Mandy’s deliberate present goes awry, she’s compelled to confront whom this present is for and why she felt compelled to place her id on the stage — an id, it must be famous, she continues to grapple with all through the play, as somebody with Taiwanese heritage who was born in Canada however straddles each cultures.

Lin gives a lot to chew on, although I needed these themes offered late within the present had been built-in extra seamlessly and fewer clearly. Kenzie Tsang’s character of the “Manufacturing Assistant,” for instance, who steps in when issues fall off the rails, comes off an excessive amount of as a foil to Lin’s character, inserted so there generally is a scene about Asian-Canadian illustration onstage and what it means to be authentically represented. Regardless of the qualms — which I hope Lin can tackle in future iterations of this distinctive and promising play — the present continues to be an fulfilling, hilarious and thought-provoking communal expertise.

On a sensible observe, the manufacturing options two forms of seating: show-only and food-inclusive (with vegetarian and meat choices). Though food-inclusive tickets require attendees to reach half-hour early to finish a COVID-19 check, the meals is effectively value it and an integral a part of the expertise.


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