Read these books by Asian playwrights
May is Asian Heritage Month, so why not take this time to add some books by Asian Canadian playwrights to your reading list that can take you through the rest of the year? Here are our suggestions:
Lady Sunrise by Marjorie Chan
From the glittering high-rise condos to the desperate streets of Vancouver, powerful stories told by women reveal the fraying social fabric among the wealthy and hangers-on in the city’s Asian Canadian community.
trace by Ho Ka Kei Jeff Ho
An elegant and sweeping story of a Chinese family’s history, trace follows the footsteps of four generations as their homes and identities are challenged. Jeff Ho brings life to his great grandmother, grandmother, and mother through considerate storytelling as they recount their pasts, leading to a paralleled present.
Pyaasa & Letters to My Grandma by Anusree Roy
Set in Calcutta, Pyaasa tells the story of Chaya, an eleven-year-old untouchable who dreams of nothing more than learning her times tables. When her mother begs a woman from a higher caste to give her a job at a local tea stall, Chaya’s journey to adulthood begins and ends over ten days. In Letters to My Grandma, Malobee unearths letters detailing her grandmother’s fight to survive the 1947 partition of India, which resonates with her own struggles to create a new life in present-day Toronto. The stories of the two women weave together to delve into how the hatred bred between Hindus and Muslims in the Old World consumes families in Canada today.
A Perfect Bowl of Pho by Nam Nguyen
Nam, a procrastination-prone Vietnamese Canadian university student, sets out with the vague ambition to write a musical about his diaspora as embodied by food, particularly the world-famous noodle soup pho. What follows is pure meta musical, genre-bending through thousands of years of history. Nam eventually finds himself caught between his different characters as each argues what pho (the food and the show) truly represents, and he struggles to find an answer that will satisfy everyone—in the end, isn’t this just a bunch of silly soup songs?
Through the Bamboo by Andrea Mapili & Byron Abalos
Twelve-year-old Philly is literally pulled into an action-packed adventure while mourning the loss of her lola when she opens an old book and finds herself tossed into the fantastical land of Uwi. Similar to The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland, this unique Filipinx Canadian tale inspired by Philippine mythology shows the value of keeping memories alive and explores how families deal with loss.
Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas edited by Stephen Orlov & Samah Sabawi
The first of its kind, Double Exposure is a groundbreaking anthology about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict penned by Diaspora playwrights of Jewish and Palestinian descent. This volume of seven plays—three by Jewish playwrights, three by Palestinian playwrights, and a collaboration of both—features The Peace Maker by Natasha Greenblatt; Sabra Falling by Ismail Khalidi; Bitterenders by Hannah Khalil; Facts by Arthur Milner; Sperm Count by Stephen Orlov; Tales of a City by the Sea by Samah Sabawi; and Twenty-One Positions: A Cartographic Dream of the Middle East by Abdelfattah AbuSrour, Lisa Schlesinger, and Naomi Wallace.
acquiesce by David Yee
acquiesce is a moving story of tradition, family, and pain passed down through generations. Plagued by the success of his first book and haunted by his past, Sin Hwang arrives in Hong Kong with some unusual cargo and a lot of emotional baggage. It’s a sharply comedic and poignant tale that reflects the cycles from which we must all break free to find our way.
Acha Bacha by Bilal Baig
For years, Zaya has delicately balanced his relationship with his Muslim faith and queer identity by keeping his genderqueer lover and manipulative mother apart. But when his mother ends up in the hospital on the same day his partner is leaving for pilgrimage, Zaya’s worlds come crashing in on each other, opening a space for traumatic memories to resurface. Acha Bacha boldly explores the intersections between queerness, gender identity, and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora.
Indian Arm by Hiro Kanagawa
A family living on native leasehold land are on fragile terms amongst each other when the surviving member of the Indigenous family who leased the land appears. With the lease now expired, they are engulfed by the secrets and contradictions of their lives and of the land itself and their stories are drawn inexorably toward an unspeakable tragedy.
Theory by Norman Yeung
In this thrilling exploration of the intersections and divisions within liberalism, a young tenure-track professor finds herself in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that has her questioning her beliefs and fighting back for her life when she opens an unmoderated online discussion group to complement a controversial syllabus, but the posts turn abusive and threaten her relationship with her wife.
The Bombay Plays by Anosh Irani
In The Matka King, a landscape of betrayal and redemption comes to life in the red-light district of Bombay, India. One very powerful eunuch operates an illicit lottery through his brothel, and when a gambler who is deeply in debt makes an unexpected wager, the stages become life and death. In Bombay Black, Apara, Bombay’s most infamous dancer, lives with her iron-willed mother in an apartment. Padma takes money from men so they can watch her daughter perform. But when a mysterious blind man visits for a private dance, his secret link to their past threatens to change their lives forever.
Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land) & Antigone: 方 by Ho Ka Kei / Jeff Ho
Two classic adaptations that transport mythological stories from Ancient Greece to modern-day civilizations. Led by people of colour, these darkly comedic plays depict recognizable plights for justice.
The Forbidden Phoenix by Marty Chan, lyrics by Robert Walsh, illustrated by Derek Mah
In this musical for young readers, Sun Wukong leaves his home with a promise to return one day and feed his son and the drought-ravaged city of Jung Guo. Inspired by the Chinese opera, The Forbidden Phoenix brings us to a world where Chinese parables are woven with the painful history of the immigrant men who suffered greatly to build Canada’s railroad in the 1800s.
The Wanderers by Kawa Ada
As the Soviet army invades Afghanistan, Aman and Mariam flee to Canada in hopes of putting an ocean between themselves and the daily horrors of war. A championship chess player in Kabul, Aman finds himself working in a pizzeria just to get by. When their son Roshan is born, their curse of displacement is passed on to the next generation. The family’s hope for a peaceful future might be Mariam’s past, as her family mythology becomes a source of power. But is her love strong enough to keep Aman and Roshan from destroying themselves or each other?
I Am For You by Mieko Ouchi
Teens Lainie and Mariam have it out for each other, so it’s no surprise when they finally come to violent blows in the middle of their high school’s drama room. Enter Caddell, an ex-professional actor and newly minted student teacher, to teach the girls the art of stage combat in order to understand the roots and costs of violence. But when he convinces the drama teacher to let them play Mercutio and Tybalt in their school production of Romeo and Juliet, swords, words, and egos battle and clash.
Sequence by Arun Lakra
Theo has been named Time Magazine’s Luckiest Man Alive – for twenty years, he has successfully bet double or nothing on the Super Bowl coin toss – when he is confronted by Cynthia, a young woman who claims to have figured out his secret. Stem-cell researcher and professor Dr. Guzman is on the verge of a groundbreaking discovery when she learns one of her students has defied probability to get all 150 multiple-choice questions wrong on his exam. The two narratives intertwine like a double helix of DNA to examine the interplay between logic and metaphysics, science and faith, luck and probability.
The Fish Eyes Trilogy by Anita Majumdar, illustrated by Maria Nguyen
Three coming-of-age solo shows—Fish Eyes, Boys With Cars, and Let Me Borrow That Top—follow the lives of teenage girls who attend the same high school and process their real-life dilemmas through dance, while exploring the heartaches of youth and the meaning of heritage. In Fish Eyes, Meena, a classically trained Indian dancer obsessed with Bollywood movies, develops a crush on Buddy, the popular boy at school, and contemplates turning down an opportunity to pursue him. In Boys With Cars, Naz, another dancer, dreams of getting out of her small town for university, but when Buddy causes a stir over her at school, her plans begin to crumble. And in Let Me Borrow That Top, Candice, a girl who appropriates Meena’s Indian dance skills and bullies Naz over a nasty rumour, has just been accepted to the Coventry School of Bhangra, and must decide if she’ll leave the comforts of home to pursue her dreams.
State of Denial by Rahul Varma
Odette is a young Rwandan Canadian filmmaker who has travelled to Turkey to investigate stories of genocide and hidden identity for an upcoming film. When she interviews Sahana, an elderly Muslim woman who has spent her life assisting survivors of the Armenian genocide, she learns a devastating secret about Sahana, one that she resolves to share with the world at any cost, even if it means revealing her own shocking secret.
The Making of St. Jerome by Marie Beath Badian
When Jason De Jesus discovers his younger brother Jerome was the victim of a senseless shooting, his world is filled with questions surrounding Jerome’s death. Was his brother a threat or a casualty of racial profiling? Was he an innocent bystander or someone other than his family’s rising star? Internalizing his survivor’s guilt while reflecting on their strained relationship, Jason’s quest for truth and justice is tainted as his discovers there are no simple answers.
Birds of a Kind by Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Linda Gaboriau
A terrorist attack in Jerusalem puts Eitan, a young Israeli German genetic researcher, in a coma, while his girlfriend Wahida, a Moroccan graduate student, is left to uncover the family secret that brought them to Israel in the first place. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict hits close to home as a straitlaced family is forced to confront everything they know about their identities.
Love and Relasianships: A Collection of Contemporary Asian-Canadian Drama Volumes 1 & 2 edited by Nina Lee Aquino
These are anthologies of plays written by Asians, for Asians, and for Canada. Volume 1 features Yellow Fever by R. A. Shiomi, Bachelor-Man by Winston Christopher Kam, Maggie’s Last Dance by Marty Chan, Mother Tongue by Betty Quan, Noran Bang: The Yellow Room by M. J. Kang, and The Plum Tree by Mitch Miyagawa. Volume 2 features Yes Yoko Solo by Jean Yoon, Tiger of Malaya by Hiro Kanagawa, Miss Orient(ed) by Nina Lee Aquino and Nadine Villasin, China Doll by Marjorie Chan, Banana Boys by Leon Aureus, and paper SERIES by David Yee.
Mahmoud by Tara Grammy & Tom Arthur Davis
Mahmoud is an overwhelmingly passionate Iranian engineer-cum-taxi driver who relishes the chance to regale his passengers with his love of Persian culture. Emanuelos, a fabulously gay Spanish perfume salesman, can talk a mile a minute about his boyfriend. And there’s Tara, an awkwardly charming Iranian Canadian preteen who just wants to be “normal,” whatever that means. When the three strangers find themselves crossing paths in the busy streets of Toronto, their experiences with racism, sexism, homophobia, homesickness, and everything in between become intertwined in unexpected ways.
Love, Loss, and Longing: South Asian Canadian Plays edited by Dalbir Singh
This collection of six plays from South Asian Canadian playwrights explores themes of family, love, trauma, race, and more. Each play is contextualized to explain its relevance and importance in the community. The collection includes Bhopal by Rahul Varma, Bombay Black by Anosh Irani, A Brimful of Asha by Ravi and Asha Jain, CRASH by Pamela Mala Sinha, Boys With Cars by Anita Majumdar, and Pyaasa by Anusree Roy.
You can discover more plays by Asian playwrights here!
This list was updated in 2022.