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- Title: Bad parent
- Written by: Ins Choi
- Director: meg roe
- Actor: Josette Jorge, Raugi Yu
- Company: Soulpepper Theater Company
- Venue: Young Center for the Performing Arts
- City: Toronto, Ont.
- Year: Runs until October 9, 2022
I only noticed it while watching Bad parent at Soulpepper how few plays actually exist about raising young children.
There are dozens of stage shows where terrible things happen to little ones backstage (or, in a certain brand of British drama, onstage). But there is very little about the day-to-day drama of living with babies, toddlers, or preschoolers — feeding and caring for them without losing your sanity, your career, or your spouse.
Bad parenta new comedy by Kim’s convenience Playwright Ins Choi, now having its world premiere in Toronto before heading to Winnipeg’s Prairie Theater Exchange and Vancouver’s Asian Canadian Theatre, is therefore a welcome entry into a limited genre.
And, hey, at under 90 minutes, the weary audience may actually stay awake to the end.
Norah (Josette Jorge) and Charles (Raugi Yu) are the mother and father of Mountain, an “18-month-old” — to use parental parlance that drives Charles insane.
The two introduce themselves right at the beginning of the play and try to tell a charmingly romantic story about their meeting—but when their narratives don’t quite match, irritation shimmers through.
Bad parent deals mainly with how complicated the birth of a child has made Charles and Norah’s marriage. Each of them hopes that the audience will help them clarify things – or take their side, anyway in a number of large and small disputes. In fact, the title of the piece invites us to find out what that is Singular bad parents.
Norah, who works for a production company, is happy to finally be able to work again afterwards Leaves Mat, and makes no attempt to hide this joy. The joy she feels at being separated from her son and being able to act like an adult is something she feels guilty for — but not for very long.
Charles, a rock musician who’s reluctantly become a music executive, is now on maternity leave himself for a while — and is surprised to find that Norah has hired a nanny to look after Mountain anyway.
However, it’s hard to blame Norah for that, considering the only way Charles can truly connect with his son is by “challenging” him — like taking him to IKEA without a diaper to prematurely to go to the toilet.
The actors each have a second role: Jorge not only plays Norah, but the nanny – Nora-with-no-H – who has two children of her own in the Philippines. Yu not only plays Charles, but also Dale, a charming associate of Norah’s.
Norah loves the stress-free small talk with Dale, while Charles loves the easy-going relationship with Nora. It’s so easy to be with other people and not fight when roles in the workplace are strictly defined.
However, when they are parents together, Norah and Charles find it difficult to talk to each other about anything without fighting – and so they reach out to the audience. The problem, Choi suggests, is that they don’t know their role anymore — what should mother and father be like these days and what should they be to each other?
While Bad parent not caught in the weeds of social media phenomena like parenting TikTok accounts or Instagram momfluencers, there is something in Choi’s chosen form for the piece that speaks to the constant judgmental look parents feel when they engage in parenting, which of course is not only online, but in front of the extended family or simply on the playground.
Director Meg Roe’s production features personable, light-hearted performances (especially from Jorge) and has a chilled vibe. Often you get the feeling that the characters are chatting away with us – for better or for worse.
Sophie Tang’s design is a big part of her comedic appeal: a set that’s mostly high Recognizable white wall-mounted storage unit filled with books, general kids’ stuff and baskets of toys, including a car that makes a hilarious cameo at a tense point by singing a song about racing.
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Bad parent doesn’t have much plot – Charles crosses a line by encouraging the nanny to start a food truck – but then who has time for more story than the one with a baby in the house? This is an exploration of that point in time – and its ending is almost Beckett to Parents: We Can’t Take Anymore, We Will Move On.
In Choi’s first major play since his hit 2011 comedy-drama about a Korean-Canadian family, adapted into a CBC (and Netflix) sitcom, the playwright explores a more explicit theatrical form — almost as if he wanted something write, which is absolutely possible not to be turned into a TV series. Attempts to engage the audience could use some clarification in script and direction, however; The characters sometimes await answers and sometimes they don’t, and a battle of sympathies never really materializes. (There’s also a scene where Norah Charles appears to be asking for a divorce, which is just confusing.)
In harmony with Kim’s convenienceHowever, Choi has written characters who are widely relatable, stay away from political trends and aren’t afraid to crack dad jokes about, say, IKEA. As a 41-month parent, I found plenty to nod to, laugh at, or shake my head in sad appreciation.