Tarragon Theatre is currently presenting the World Premiere of Three Women of Swatow, a riveting piece written by Chloé Hung. Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Three Women of Swatow examines the generational wounds experienced by a Grandmother, Mother, and Daughter. This compelling story will have you gasp, laugh, and cry all at once.
The set for this production was very unique; situated in the Extraspace, the intimacy of the venue lends itself well to the structure and intensity of the play. I loved how Grandmother’s apartment easily transformed into Daughter’s, and while many of the set pieces were the same, there was no confusion about which location you were at. As they mentioned on their website, there is A LOT of stage blood. And it seems to just magically appear during the main set change! Nothing gory even happens on stage, we just get the goopy aftermath and evidence.
The performances in this play were astounding. Truly. All three women were brilliant, transforming from one character to another, changing generations and time; it was genius. Carolyn Fe plays Grandmother and she is both funny and fierce simultaneously. She’ll have you laughing and then terrified from one sentence to the next with true mastery. Chantria Tran’s Mother was dynamic and moving. We watch as she tries to come to grips with her own trauma as well as the devastating realization of what she’s done and how much it makes her like her mother. Stories like this are so important because of characters like Mother and what she goes through, and Tran does an incredible job bringing her to life. Diana Luong rounds out the cast as Daughter, and like her counterparts she gives a remarkable performance. Her character has to come to grips with a great deal about her past in a very short amount of time, and watching her go through those motions was heart-wrenching. In the end, when she chooses to embrace her role as a Swatow woman, Luong really has you feel that confidence and growth that her character’s just experienced.
My favourite element of the production is when the characters would transform into Mothers and Daughters past to show us how fierce these Swatow women really are. The actors seamlessly flow from one character to the next and it highlighted the cyclical nature of the story. Legends and folklore where there are three women representing the different stages of life permeate so many different cultures and so I loved seeing how that played out in this production. Through this we see how essential sacrifice is to the continuation of the cycle. Grandmother is totally willing to sacrifice her freedom for Mother, and we see how many times Grandmother has had to sacrifice herself for her own autonomy and that of Mother as well. These women may be fierce, but there is a lot of pain that comes with that fierceness. The final image of the play, where all three women are lined up one behind the other, their cleavers gleaming in the light, is a perfect summation of everything we witnessed; the final haunting words eliciting gasps from everyone in the audience.
There are two in-person performances of Three Women of Swatow at Tarragon Theatre, and you can purchase online tickets until May 25 to watch it from the comfort of your own home! To purchase tickets visit Three Women of Swatow – Tarragon Theatre