Writer and director Asa Gim Palomera creates fascinating theatre in her play, The Prodigal Daughter, which runs at C until the end of the Festival on Monday. A story crossing both the Korean War and WWII probes into some uncomfortable areas of paedophilia, cultural stigmatism and abuse of power.
The show opens as Mina (Mandi Sebasio-Ong), a Korean who has lived in the US for more than 30 years returns to the country of her birth for her father's funeral. She is alienated by her family, which at first we assume to have something to do with her Americanised values, but through a series of revelations and flashbacks, we discover a more sinister reason for her treatment. In an attempt to see her family through the Korean War, Mina's mother (Felicity Steel), allows her six-year old child to be abused by an American General (David Dawkins). Nina's mother, having lived with the guilt for decades, appears to blame her own daughter, and the interfering traditionalist Mrs Klang (Elizabeth Semmel) is a constant reminder of her shortcomings. It's about honour, it's about shame, and it has some powerful things to say about the United States as a liberator.
But what makes this piece really special is the stylised way Asa Gim Palomera paints the story. There's a precisely choreographed fluid motion, even in blackout as the set changes. It's a discipline I've not seen before, and beautiful to watch. Abandoning the constraints of naturalistic delivery, we occasionally get flashes of movement and chanting that break the conventions of modern theatre. It is also almost cinematic in quality, with sharply delineated scenes.
It's also worth noting the strikingly atmospheric lighting design, which complements the simple, but effective, set perfectly.
If I had any criticism, then it is only that perhaps some of the unnecessary story arcs could be trimmed to help the audience concentrate on the central themes. For instance, we probably don't need to know the Lieutenant (Brook Sykes) has a liking for young boys or his attempts to blackmail the General. These are red herrings, which muddy an otherwise strong narrative.