Friday, April 21, 2017

Play a Day: Red Onion, White Garlic

Photo: Steve Wagner
Two weeks ago I shared some background on my previous work for Talespinner Children's Theatre, Rosalynde & The Falcon. That was the same day my new work, Red Onion, White Garlic opened at TCT, and folks in the Cleveland area still have two weeks to catching it. In fact, tonight (Friday, April 21) is a pay-what-you-can performance, so bring the entire family. Bring grandma.

This play is a collection of Indonesian folktales, strung together into one continuous narrative. These tales include The Golden Snail and The King of the Parakeets among others, including that from which the play derives its title.

The original version of Red Onion, White Garlic (Bawang Putih Bawang Merah in Malay, literally "shallots and garlic") follows a familiar narrative of a young girl oppressed by her "evil" stepmother and stepsister.

The young girl, Bawang Putih (White Garlic) must do all the housework while her stepmother dotes on her own child, Bawang Merah (Red Onion). Virtue is eventually rewarded when Bawang Putih is awarded a pumpkin full of jewels for doing a good turn for the local sorceress. When Bawang Merah is sent by her mother to get another one, she behaves with entitlement and is rewarded with a pumpkin full of snakes and scorpions.

This tale did not compel me, however, and anyway, Rosalynde & The Falcon is already a story about an oppressed stepchild. And is it not time to be done with the "wicked stepmother" narrative all together? How many of us are or know people who are members of blended families?

So the challenge I set for myself was to tell a new version of the tale, one in which these sisters love each other and take care of each other, and I looked to those closest to me for example. In doing so, I noticed the marked age difference that can often exist between step-siblings, and how family economics can affect the way each person was raised as children.

Then there's the whole Gen X vs. Millennial dynamic, make of that what you will.

Finally, I noted how our central tale centers entirely on characters who are women; mother, daughters, female witches. As my tale expanded, I realized that all of the characters were going to be women. The opportunity for a male character never presented itself.

The Talespinner production is downright gorgeous, each of the five actors in beautiful kebaya and hijab, and performing wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry.

"Red Onion, White Garlic" is available from YouthPLAYS.

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