Tarragon Theatre is starting it’s 2022/23 season off with a total hit! Cockroach, written by Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) and directed by Artistic Director Mike Payette, chronicles the inner life of a young man as he experiences a very traumatic event. This funny, moving, and poignant work is the kind of powerful theatre we all need to be seeing right now.
The design of the production is astounding; designed by Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart and Arun Srinivasan, the sets, costumes, and lighting all work together to create a sort of industrial setting which provides the perfect backdrop to allow Cockroach, Bard, and Boy to tell their stories. The neon lighting was so perfect when The Cockroach was talking about Hong Kong, the pinks and reds were beautiful. I also really loved how they did the lobster tank, it was brilliant lighting and set design and made it look so instantly recognizable.
Cockroach was so funny and in ways I truly wasn’t anticipating. The Cockroach was absolutely hysterical just on his own, sprouting truths about the human race from his unique perspective as a “pest.” Once the Bard, the ghost of William Shakespeare, gets added into the mix, the hilarity gets turned up to eleven. The writing is so brilliant, combining these insightful observations about the human condition with witty jokes and intelligent word-play. The Bard really got me, mostly because I’m definitely guilty of the idolatry and recitations which this ghostly character claims doesn’t let his spirit rest.
The cast of Cockroach is a perfect trio to tell this story: Karl Ang as Bard, Steven Hao as Cockroach, and Anton Ling as Boy. Ang and Hao, as previously discussed, have amazing comedic chemistry, but then they also were so compassionate and caring when Boy was in trouble. Hao starts off the show by telling Cockroach’s life story, and I was amazed at how he held us under his trance for such a long time; he was engaging, charming, and insightful. Ling’s performance moved me to tears; going from the jumbled collection of memories to a coherent retelling of what was happening to him, all encompassed by Hanna Kiel’s beautiful choreography, showed talent far beyond his years. Ang brought one of my most revered heroes to life in a way that I could not contain my joy; it was irreverent and funny, all of the things I think Shakespeare would have loved. But to be representing essentially the entire Western world in one man was quite the feat, and he did so beautifully.
Something that Cockroach pointed out which I hadn’t considered previously was how Shakespeare’s permeation in our common speech means that at some point we’re all learning Shakespeare without even thinking about it. There are a plethora of common phrases which we use every day which were first set down by, and thus attributed to, Shakespeare. So when anyone is learning the English language, they inherently learn lines from Shakespeare’s Cannon.
But it certainly makes Shakespeare the perfect representation of Western culture in Boy’s mind. Cockroach and Bard represent the two warring parts of Boy, the Asian and Western, the homeland and the new home, that forever tug him back and forth. Watching Boy learn to come to balance the two parts of himself, that he can rely on both for different things and most importantly, that the Western side of him can learn a lot from the Asian side of him, was the heart and soul of the play. It lets you know that Boy is going to be okay.
I cannot begin to express how much you need to see Cockroach. It opened my mind and my heart in a beautiful way. This is a perfect start to this new age for Tarragon and I cannot wait to see what Ho Ka Kei, and Tarragon, are going to do next. For more information and tickets, visit: Cockroach – Tarragon Theatre
Anton Ling, 郝邦宇 Steven Hao and Karl Ang in Cockroach – Photo by Joy von Tiedemann