Home truths

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 December, 1994, 12:00am

SURVIVAL lesson number one: there is no home. Survival lesson number two: if the local labour's getting expensive, go somewhere else and find someone who will do the work cheaper.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe has painful truths to explore in its dramatised fable about our dysfunctional world, where too many of us are economic migrants, losing sight of where we came from and where we are going.

And, in the tradition of political theatre, which this award-winning company has been doing for 37 years, they do not mince any of their words as they punch home the point again and again; the ratio is 20-80. And while the 20 per cent wheel and deal and have too much, the 80 per cent suffer.

The show, in a stylised format which, appropriately, merges Western theatre tradition with Japanese Kabuki, Chinese Opera choreography and 'east-west fusion jazz' tells the story of four families affected by international trade deals.

The rice farmer from Cambodia comes to America and works hard washing dishes, until he loses his job, and is forced to collect cardboard on the streets. He competes with a black American street-sleeper who has protectionist policies over his tiny patch of road, because he was there first.

Old Fred, the deliciously ponderous security man, is made redundant after Chinese-American businessman Carl Lee - a man who doesn't want to do bad things, but believes that if he doesn't make the deals someone else will - offers to relocate the microchip factory to China.

Fred's daughter has already left, seeing no future in America, and has chased the relative riches of a high-class hostess in a Tokyo bar. 'America's exports now are trees and tits; Miss Saigon's revenge,' she comments.

In Guangzhou, Carl meets Mr Zhou, a well-meaning official who still hopes some good can be done out of trade. 'We will accept your pollution, but in return we will share your high technology,' he says poignantly.

But Carl will only offer him lai see and no promises.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the 'modern' daughter alienates herself from her high-powered father, siding with the rice farmers who need tariffs to survive.

While the acting was consistently strong, the first half of the piece was rather confusing - not only because of all the trade talk, but because of the complicated inter-weavings of the plots and characters.

But by the end, the blank verse had swept up the stories into a great saga of lives that cannot, by their position in history, afford to be simple.

Rather like the global economic situation, this rare collaboration between Asian and American writers offers no answers, only increasingly important questions.

Where are we going in such a hurry? Do we really want to go there . . . we'd better want it, because we can't go back.

This is a grand Kabuki lament, the kind of Asian-American joint venture that might actually be a positive thing for everyone involved.

Offshore, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, Asian People's Theatre Festival, Shouson Theatre, Arts Centre. December 19