This script was so sweet and lovely and filled with affection that I’m sad I never saw it performed. I’m sure it would have been heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It’s funny how those two things so often go together.
Playwright Tetsuro Shigematsu created Empire of the Son as an exploration of his relationship with his father, a no-nonsense man who worked for many years for the CBC. He considers their relationship as his father ages and how difficult it can be for families to overcome a culture of stoicism and silence. He wonders how it will be for him and his children: can they express their feelings? Can they say “I love you”? Can they overcome their prescribed gender roles?
Shigematsu plays all the roles in his one man production (which again, I’m sorry to have missed) and uses multimedia to capture the voices of his mother, his sisters, his ailing father, in the live production. He used the experience of writing the play to listen to old clips of his father’s CBC show. He digs through photos, and steals his children’s toys to use on set.
My favourite bit though, is how he describes his three sisters when they visit their father in the hospital.
“My sisters are multilingual in the languages of love … Make no mistake, my sisters are grown women, mothers but not matronly, but maybe magicians, maybe wiccans, because in the blink of an eye they become little girls again. “Goodnight, Daddy, otosan, I love you, ai shiteru,” cooing affectionate little girls, while my brother and I remain like British Beefeaters, arms by our side, silent, while my sisters shapeshift into a basket full of kittens, and with every kiss they bring him back from the brink of death…”
“And as I stand there, slack jawed and dumb … all I can think is there are cultures in this world that prize sons over daughters. I know because I come from one of them. So stupid.”