Watch out mixed-race Asian queer kids with parental issues, Losing Face is here to fuck you up . . . in the best possible way.
The hum of an ultra-catchy Christmas song (very, very nice touch) and an apartment room with a tinsel-covered tree and presents, bring us into the world of Nathan Joe’s newest play following his ground-breaking Scenes from a Yellow Peril (2022).
Losing Face is a reimagined version of the first play Joe ever wrote. Now, it’s being touted as a play about daddy issues. The play centres on Mark, a Pākehā gay man and Shawn, his younger Chinese boyfriend, welcoming Mark’s daughter Jenn on Christmas Eve.
For the first 10 minutes, Joe has us laughing away, deploying his signature wild and raunchy humour. It would be easy to think that we’re in for a standard affair at the theatre.
Then Jenn shows up and he pulls a fast one on us.
Audience members tilt their heads as we realise that we’re getting a reset play. Mark welcomes Jenn into his new apartment but the conversation doesn’t get off to a good start. Ping! A bizarre sound blares, the lights shift and the actors rewind. They rehash the same conversation but this time, Mark says the ‘right thing’ and the play keeps moving forward.
What follows is a hilarious and heartfelt exploration of the ‘what-could-have-beens’ and the ‘only-if-they-said-this-insteads’ that dive deep into the complexities of parent-child dynamics, queerness and mixed-race identities.
“Sex, innuendos and references are packed to the brim to make you laugh and cringe simultaneously. ”
The nature of the reset play lets Joe create his most horny and laugh-out-loud ridiculous work yet. Sex, innuendos and references are packed to the brim to make you laugh and cringe simultaneously. Joe uses the reset element to explore the bat-shit-crazy intrusive thoughts that many of us have. This leads to one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen on stage. It left an image in my head that I can’t shake, and judging from the screams and laughs from the audience, I’m not alone.
In the wildness of the play is where Danny Lam, who plays Shawn, steals nearly every scene that he’s in. This shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise if they caught Lam in Yang/Young/杨 written by Sherry Zhang and Nuanzhi Zheng and, of course, directed by Nathan Joe himself. Lam is so much fun to watch and will be an absolute highlight for many audience members.
Much of the play’s humour and tension comes from the exploration of queerness. Mark is a gay man who’s dating Shawn, who’s the same age as Jenn. Difficult discussions arise within the father-daughter relationship about this and what it means for Jenn. These are hard questions that Joe doesn’t shy away from. He makes the audience sit in the discomfort and doesn’t offer an easy solution, because there isn’t one. It’s a wonderful perspective that adds to the growing way that queerness is reflected and examined within theatre. It surprised me and challenged my thinking around what it means to be queer.
Yet, Joe doesn’t make you take it all too seriously. He throws in plenty of topical NSFW jokes that had the gays in the audience cackling!
A time-looping play can only be successful if the technical elements hold up. Thankfully, the sound design and lighting choices are near perfect. There’s a surreal nature to it all with a chilling colour palette for the lighting and sounds that felt like something out of Netflix’s Squid Game. It was bizarre and unnerving- truly bringing us into the weird world of the play.
This goes hand in hand with the stunning use of the set. A pet peeve of mine in theatre is a lack of physical set transformations on stage. I’m always hoping to feel like a giddy little kid, seeing a fantastic set change. Luckily, the play delivers this and more. Scenes from a Yellow Peril features one of the most exciting set changes in its final moments, where everything is rapidly manually deconstructed. It’s a breathtaking moment and that same feeling has been brought into many elements of Losing Face, both in obvious and subtle ways. Everything is so well-thought-out and enriches the movement of the story.
Of course, we need to mention the elephant in the room or more accurately, the daddy in the room. The play’s core is the relationship between Mark and Jenn. The play explores the deep well that is their complicated dynamic and brings to light all the questions, feelings and hopes that we all have when we think about our parents. Joe wisely presents these ideas with humour and then sinks deeper, throwing us right into the hearts of these characters—in unique ways, to say the least.
This is achieved to full effect thanks to Andrew Ford’s powerful performance as Mark. He fully embodies the contradictions of his character and invites us into the sticky, harrowing places that we often aren’t able to see in our father figures. It’s safe to say he is the ultimate daddy.
Joe throws in another layer of complexity to the central relationship—a cultural divide. Jenn’s mother is Chinese so she’s caught between two worlds and harbours a host of feelings towards Mark because of it. As an Asian mixed-race kid myself, I was amazed by Joe’s nuanced take that holds a light up to how this impacts a parent-child relationship. Being mixed-race is super confusing and at times, pretty shit. Joe gracefully examined these feelings and Shervonne Grierson’s performance as Jenn amplified them. Grierson overall is a delight—constantly hilarious and raw at the same time somehow. Yet, she’s most powerful in the discussions around Jenn’s cultural identity. There’s one scene in particular, which rang so true to me and I know will bring tears to the eyes of other mixed-race kids in the audience.
Superbly acted with fantastic direction by Samuel Phillips and exquisite production design, Losing Face is a true joy to watch.
Nathan Joe has delivered a fascinating new piece that will resonate strongly with audiences, just like Scenes from a Yellow Peril. Yet in Losing Face, we get to see a new refreshed perspective—Joe at his most personal and earnest yet. He offers us all a strong reminder of how we can be better. How we need to forgive. How we need to reconcile.
It’s this new hopeful energy that I adored and will take away. So, in true Nathan Joe fashion, let me reset.
Watch out mixed-race Asian queer kids with parental issues, Losing Face is here to fuck you up . . . and remind you to call your dad.
Losing Face is showing at Q Theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau until Saturday 19 August. To find out more and to purchase tickets, head on over to Q Theatre’s website.
Featured image courtesy of Punctum Productions and Q Theatre.