San Diego, CA— Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. Kahlil Gibran
I had never felt so close to Gibran’s words as I did over a dozen years ago when my oldest daughter and her family moved to Israel. Letting go is never easy and I was not ready, but they had to go on their own journey; find their own way and I had to let go. I still shed tears after a visit, either way, when saying goodbye.
It had to have been the way Brenda McCullough (Julie Sachs) must have felt when she finally understood that her daughter Jade (Dana Wing Lau), whom she had adopted as a seven month old infant in a country where girls had little worth and the government restricted one child to a couple, had to leave her home in the states to find her roots in China in Will Coopers touching “Jade Heart” now in a powerful and gut wrenching west coast premiere production at Moxie Theatre through Aug. 10th.
Throughout her growing up years, Brenda had assumed, took for granted, insisted that Jade was American. “You are an American”. (You’re an American. You were born Chinese, but you’re American now. You don’t want to go back to China and leave Mommy all by herself, do you?) Brenda was so blinded by her own selfishness and control that she overlooked the fact that what she had to do for Jade to have peace of mind, was to let her go.
During her growng up years, that was not an option for Jade. Nonetheless Brenda thwarted her every move to veer her away from her personal journey at any cost. But that didn’t stop Jade from having her secret longings to find her birth mother or digging into her roots and have her own life; a life that put her in the drivers seat.
Cooper’s non linear plot shifts go back and forth crossing cultural, social, racial and ethnic lines as Jade moves in and out of her own narrative or dreamlike world looking for her truth while her reality is living in the world that she was brought into as a baby.
In every dream, she meets her China Mom (Dana Byrne) and wants more information about a half jade heart necklace/memory stone her adoptive mother told her she found in her swaddling blanket. But every time she gets close, China Mom disappears.
As the lights come up Jade’s ‘China Mom’, wearing a mask, is singing a traditional Chinese tune behind a wall of horizontal strings that look much like a musical instrument separating the past from the now. The reality factor in Cooper’s play kicks in immediately and takes us along with Jade as a teenager, a youngster, a student, a young and bright woman in love and finally an adult ready to find her roots, if that’s possible
Ours begins with Jade first as a teenager: “Because I say so. I’m your mother”, is Brenda’s response when Jade wants to go away with her friends. I won’t even attempt to count how many times I said those very same words to my three daughters as they were feeling their growing pains and wanted to expand their horizons. It’s a good line and stops most arguments on a dime.
In the telling of Jade’s story and making sense of the seamless scene and time changes, the clothes she wears speak volumes to us. The trunk she keeps in her room houses her past with her present. When Jade slips into her silk embroidered ‘Chinese’ jacket and jade necklace, much to Brenda’s chagrin, we know she is either going to have a fantasy or just annoy her mother. Other times, as a teen, she slips into her rebel leather jacket and pins a red streamer in her hair; another Mother annoyance. Most of the time though, she is in casual pants and blouse.
I found it fascinating walking Jade’s path with her especially when we learn that she does in fact finish college and majored in English Lit. (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is her specialty). For a while it seemed she was on her mother’s straight and narrow even when Brenda hired Mu Chang (Dana Byrne) to watch Jade when she was younger. Wu used the opportunity to teach Jade some Chinese words as well as bring Chinese coloring books and sharing Chinese folk stories. Here we see Jade energized and excited about her new learning experiences. But when she pushed too far, Brenda let her go.
Mother and daughter even took a sightseeing trip to China on a special Heritage Tour designed to show the visitors, mostly young women in the same boat as Jade, the famous sights. Once again Jade makes contact with her China Mom and once again tries to make the jade connection with her but confesses to Brenda that she really did not feel a connection. It is on this trip that she really hopes to find out more from her China Mom. What she did learn though was that jade jewelry was sold in every hotel gift store and by every street vendor.
Things begin to pop when Jade meets fellow student Duan Chengshi, (Albert Park) an engineering student studying in the states, but contracted for a job in China. He soon becomes her romantic interest and later on her live-in boyfriend. He is one of the most interesting characters that come into her Chinese world. Bright, charming and non judgmental, he turns her life upside down, gives her the courage to face Brenda and finally the fortitude find her own way; her own people and whatever else there is out there for her, come hell or high waters.
Cooper’s story touches so many nerves; braves so many real life situations. The conflicts between mother and daughter, east and west traditions that are ever in our consciousness play out to nuanced perfection by the entire cast. Hard liner Julie Sachs is perfect as the controlling yet fragile mother afraid of losing the one thing she holds dear thereby creating the perfect storm for the love/hate relationship that develops between mother and daughter.
Dana Wing Lau is a treasure shifting feelings and emotions on the spot from young and rebellious to angst and tormented, to romantic, dreamy and in love, and Dana Wing Lau and Albert Park are able to create a natural softening of feelings and eventual mutual acceptance. Adding to the intrigue, the masks worn by the rest of the cast that all look alike became a challenge for this reviewer to try to identify who was under what.
Dana Bryrne is most effective as Mu Chang, China Mom and Chinese Woman 1. Park’s other duties are playing the Tour Director, Mr. Wong, the person in charge of the adoption agency and of course Duan. Joyce Lai is perfect as Jades friend Mei. She too, takes on several roles in the scheme of things.
Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, once again got it so right starting with an all out excellent cast, a beautifully designed set by Natalie Kkuen and costumes fitting each situation and occasion by Emily Smith. Sherrice Kelly’s gorgeous lighting design accenting reds on the threads connecting Jade with her past is especially effective and Emily Jankowski’s sound design, particularly the harp sounds coming from the vertical strings when passing from west to east and back, send chills.
All this and more round out a memorable season for the young, pre-teen (ten years old) theatre that could and does prove that a dozen or so diverse divas can and do make a difference.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 10th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N, San Diego, CA 92115
Ticket Prices: $27.00