By Maki Yi. Directed by Colleen Lanki. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, October 28. Continues until November 12
Maki Yi’s journey from South Korea to the Vancouver stage was long and difficult, but it sure makes a compelling story.
Suitcase Stories began as a series of short preshow monologues that Yi performed in the Pacific Theatre lobby during that company’s 2013-14 season. They’ve been stitched together into a one-act play that explores Yi’s “placement, replacement, displacement” as an immigrant to Canada.
Yi leaves her native South Korea, seeking a new life “where nobody knows I’m a loser”. When she lands at Pearson International Airport—she chooses Toronto from the three Canadian cities she knows because she has a map of the city that her brother once brought home—Yi is startled by the diversity of the people around her. “The West means to me a land of white people,” she says. That’s only the first of many realizations about how life in Canada differs from her expectations. “It didn’t even occur to me that I’d watched Hollywood movies, not Canadian movies,” she admits.
On the advice of a fellow ESL student, she somewhat impulsively relocates to Regina via Greyhound bus. At the university there, she discovers a passion for theatre, a dubious career path in the eyes of her family back home and pretty much everyone else: “To most of the world, theatre doesn’t seem like a good word,” she muses. Upon finding her passion, Yi decides to become a landed immigrant—and finds herself embroiled in a bureaucratic process of epic absurdity.
Yi’s writing is beautifully crafted as she details her numerous cultural collisions, and she is a lively and engaging storyteller with many moods: ebullient when she discovers acting, scandalized when she sees a couple making out at the Greyhound station, depressed when her application for immigration is refused. Under Colleen Lanki’s direction, a few simple flourishes add theatricality to the minimalist staging, which capitalizes on Pacific Theatre’s unique space. Yi’s sole prop, her suitcase, becomes a character as well: like an annoying sibling, it occasionally pipes up to offer wise-ass comments on her narration, even dramaturgical advice.
Suitcase Stories is a testament to Yi’s resilience and to the joy she takes in her chosen profession. For audiences, that joy is infectious.