A postcard review of ATP’s Café Daughter, part of this year’s High Performance Rodeo

ATP presents Café Daughter, based on the life of Chinese-Canadian and Cree Senator Lillian Eva Quan Dyck. Caroline Russell-King shares her insights on the show.

Show: Café Daughter.

Playwright/s: Kenneth T. Williams.

Production Company/Theatre space: A Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre Production in association with Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts at Alberta Theatre Projects in the Martha Cohen Theatre, Arts Commons as part of the OYR High Performance Rodeo.

Length: One act (85 mins., no intermission).

Genre/s: Drama (a one-woman, coming-of-age story).

Premise: Inspired by the childhood of The Honourable Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, in this play Yvette is the daughter of a Chinese father and Cree mother who deals with issues young girls face in the early 1950s in Canada, but heightened by a death and a secret.

Why this play? Why now?: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and fallout are a current political topic and promise to be so for some time.

Curiosities: I wondered why she didn’t take her bike in the high stakes scene? Since sexuality is usually a big part of teenage development, I was curious about this omission. I was unclear about the climax. I was a little taken aback by the choice of the big time jump. 

Notable lines: The toe-curling irony of: “Miss Scott is teaching me to be an Indian.”

Notable writing: Having had his plays produced all across Canada, U of A professor Kenneth T. Williams knows how to spin a tale. (I hope that this is the first of a trilogy, because it would seem there is enough material in this remarkable woman’s life to keep us coming back.)

Notable performances: Tiffany Ayalik commands a cast of multiple genders, ages and race with ease. Her conjuration keeps the main role from becoming too saccharine.

Notable design/production: A less experienced designer would have had the poor actor hauling set pieces all over and jumping into different playing areas — T. Erin Gruber does none of this. Her set beautifully supports the story, and her projections (which normally I think encroach) were a subtle touch.

Notable direction: To her credit, Lisa C. Ravensbergen (a multi-disciplinary artist who works as a playwright, dramaturg, and actor) keeps the play sublimely simple and doesn’t let it get over-complicated with too many costume pieces, props and other detritus. 

One reason to see this show: Ayalik is a study of how one-woman shows are done well. 

Café Daughter runs at the Martha Cohen Theatre until Jan. 27.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here