On a hot Sunday afternoon in May, I made my way to the Fallout Shelter aka the home of Cohesion Theatre company for the last few seasons, to watch a unique show named Tornkid, a co-production with new kids on the block Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective (BAPAC). I was excited to see this BAPAC show because of its subject matter about the duality of being an American and “not” an American. It’s an immigrant’s story about not feeling comfortable in either of the two worlds you call home. I myself am a boring ass Black girl, but I grew up with a lot of 1st and 2nd generation Americans and I emphasized with their stories.
Tornkid is about a kid aptly named “Tornkid” (Surasree Das) who just wants to fit in. They have conflicting life choices like: do they eat the spam and rice their Mom prepared them for lunch and risk ridicule or do they eat the mini pizza offered to them by their “American” friends and risk denying their culture? In a fit of frustration, Tornkid splits herself into two pieces and her Other Half (Mika Nakano) escapes with her voice. Tornkid journies to an unknown world to search for their other half. Tornkid meets several characters along the way who try to help or hinder Tornkid’s path to discover themselves. The characters include: the evil Tree spirit (Jess Rivera), the teary Fairy Goddess (Brian Lai), the heavy-hearted Fisherman (Brian Lai), the brave Sea Warrior (Jess Rivera) and the masked Trickster (Mika Nakano). The Magic Teller (Kim Le) helped to interpret the silent musings of Tornkid, narrated the story and evoked the “ancestors” for Tornkid.
This was quintessentially an ensemble cast. Everyone worked well together to move set pieces, manipulate puppets and support each other on stage. They were a team and it showed. The Magic Teller (Kim Le) was ever present and kept the story moving. Kim Le had an easy, reassuring presence that encouraged the “ancestors” to get involved in the action. Her voice was calming and she moved with ease. Surasree Das had an engaging stage presence as Tornkid. She was expressive and used her whole body and every muscle in her face to convey words and emotion without speaking. Well done. Mika Nakano was nimble as the Trickster. She was light on her feet and had a fun,sly essence. I enjoyed seeing what she would do next. Lastly, Jess Rivera and Brian Lai played the Tree Spirit/Sea Warrior and Fisherman/Fairy Goddess respectfully. They also bore the lion’s share of the puppetry work with fluid, easy movements. I especially enjoyed Jess Rivera as the Sea Warrior. She yielded a staff of coral to fight off a monster in all her bad assery! One note of critique is that both actors could have differentiated the multiple characters a bit more. Both did a good job of changing posture, but their characters sounded very similar. The addition of costume pieces and masks helped; however, a more pronounced vocal change would have been the icing on the cake.
The audience was the 6th actor in Tornkid. The audience were the “ancestors” called upon by the Magic Teller to support Tornkid on her journey. I’m all for audience participation, but it didn’t feel grown-up. I had flashbacks of watching Peter Pan on TV and clapping so that Tinkerbell would live. That being said, this aspect was extremely well articulated for the child palette. The little girl in the audience during the show I attended sat in the front row and ate it up, but some adult audiences may be reluctant to participate. As the show went on, I eased into in hesitantly, but by the end I was clapping, stomping and blowing (don’t ask) along. I’m an ancestor now Bitch! Sorry, I got excited for a second.
Tornkid was devised with members of Cohesion Theatre company and BAPAC and written by Katelynn Kenney. I could hear the distinct voices of the cast and crew echoed in the text. Individual stories were present with the thread of “twoness” etched in the words. This is a show that will resonate with people. It felt easy and relatable for AAPI folks and others alike. The overlapping dialogue was well executed and did a good job of displaying the inner thoughts of Tornkid: voices in your head that go unsaid. There is so much behind what we say. The play asked several questions throughout the performance that engaged the audience in thought. The theme of “How to use your voice?” echoed throughout the play. However, I wished Tornkid would have answered its own question. I wanted this play to use its voice more. What do I mean by that? Tornkid felt unfinished. The bones and structure were there, but it would have been more powerful to see the play fleshed out a little more. The story tackled a poignant topic almost hesitantly. There was so much more to say and to emote that I felt was left on the cutting room floor. The story was still very good don’t get me wrong. I heard the play whispering. The play would benefit from some additional tweaking to make it shout. Get out of your head Tornkid I want to hear your voice!
Puppets and scenic design by Jess Rasp were straightforward and simple. The painted floors and backdrop evoked water and earth and the hand puppets manipulated by multiple cast members were colorful and expressive. Mask designer Tara Cariaso created grotesque and exaggerated masks that were really fucking cool. They seamlessly transformed the characters with the help of the costumes. Speaking of costumes, Costume Designer Elizabeth Ung did a bang up job of using colorful, flowy fabrics to set the tone for the play. Lightweight tan colored tunics and brightly colored tights ancored the base costumes for the actors and allowed them to add pieces for each of the characters they played. Paulina Lamb as Properties Designer created easy and transportable props (perhaps for a travelling tour?) that fit in the world created by Tornkid. Lastly Lighting Designer Daniel Weissglass and Sound Designer C. Swan-Skreepy helped to transplant the audience to a mythical forest, a pending rain storm, or an underwater world with a single sound or well placed lighting cue. The warm hued lighting was specific and the sound was nuanced and acted as an undercurrent to the action. Director Cara Hinh had a firm grasp of the story, the emotion and the technical elements in this play. I see you Cara, I see you!
Spam AND Pizza. Immigrant AND American. You can be both child! Tornkid asks the beautiful question at the conclusion of the play: “Do you believe your story is enough?” Yes, our stories are enough and they deserve to be heard. They deserve a place in the spotlight. Thank you BAPAC and Cohesion for showcasing AAPI stories on stage.
Should I stay or should I go? Stop reading this damn review and go see this original play! Go to support a new theater company created to celebrate AAPI voices. Go see Tornkid if you are or know a “Tornkid” living here in America. Tornkid is a devised work created to show the world what it feels like to be torn between two worlds. People who are “caught between worlds without a voice.” Tornkid is a creative use of materials, storytelling and audience interaction. The performances were energetic, the tech colorful, the costumes vibrant and the story real. Tornkid had heart and soul ya’ll! In addition to being cool as shit, Tornkid is kid friendly! Bring your kids to the “Meet the Puppets” event at 3:15pm on Sunday June 3nd and enjoy the matinee performance afterwards. I hope BAPAC and the playwright continue to workshop the play to make its voice resonate fully. I cannot wait to see the future of this play and hear what else it has to say. (Z)
Now through June 9th. Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.