By: Angela Guardiani
A woman stands centre stage, wearing a gaudy circus ringmaster’s jacket and a giant banana on her head. Her gaze is direct and frank, even confrontational, as she asks us - a slightly nervous audience packed into a garage-like black box of a theatre - just how offensive we find her costume. It’s a banana, you see. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. The audience squirms a little but is silent. We’re good audience members. We know not to disturb the performers. But the woman in the ringmaster’s jacket doesn’t let up. “So you’re okay with banana? What about halfie? Hapu? Halfbreed?” Cautious hands start to go up and then go right back down again, held tight in laps. The woman with the banana on her head turns to her companion, a woman wearing a similar jacket and a headdress shaped like a fried egg and says, “Really tolerant audience tonight, isn’t it?”
Just like that, the tension breaks, and everyone laughs. Mixie and the Halfbreeds is a play that builds around doubling, contrasts, and opposites - tension and release, realism and symbolism, white and Other. For all that the confrontation I’ve described seems loaded, Mixie is actually a charming, playful, delightfully weird show about the experience of being mixed race. Written, directed by, and starring mixed-race women, the show was originally staged in 2009 and has been updated to be more reflective of the 2018 experience of being both white and Asian. Although the mixed experience clearly isn’t exclusive to that combination, the fu-GEN Theatre Company brings Asian-Canadian voices to the forefront as part of its mandate.
The two women who anchor the play are Mixie and Trixie (Zoe Doyle and Vanessa Trenton), and the only thing they share is an ambiguous ethnicity that they approach differently. Mixie doubles down on her Japanese-ness, carrying a rice plushie named Short Grain everywhere she goes and wearing a Hello Kitty patch on her dress. Trixie, on the other hand, embraces her “lightness,” elegantly turned out in heels and a shift dress and sporting a golden bob. Oh yes - Mixie and Trixie each have a double, a wide-eyed “blonde” following them with the sweetness of a puppy and the inexorability of an avenging angel. No one else can see them and, indeed, when the two blondes meet, an usual chemical reaction happens. In an Alice-in-Wonderland twist, Mixie and Trixie are swept away to a land populated by these eerily similar blondes, and go on a quest to retrieve Short Grain through a land of mirrors and stark branches.
The Mixie and Trixie in Blonde Wonderland story is mirrored by cabaret-like scenes where Zoe and Nessa speak to each other (and us) directly. There’s a killer rendition of O Canada, in French, with simultaneous translation that really makes you realize how incongruous those words seem to Canadians with more than one identity. And isn’t that most of us? There is some genuinely uncomfortable tension and some genuinely sweet banter between the two leads that gives the play emotional heft. The Greek chorus of identically dressed blondes dance their way through the minimalistic set with enthusiasm to bouncy Korean pop music, and it’s delightful. There’s still time to catch Mixie before it closes this weekend; it’s well worth it.
Mixie and the Halfbreeds plays at Pia Bouman School, 6 Noble Street. Tickets are available at www.fu-gen.org and run from $15-$35.