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Joanna Chan Battles Empire of the Son Policy

By Daniel Mufson
Originally published in The Village Voice, Tuesday, 4 November 2003.

Abortion has long occupied a place in social drama, but usually the pressures to abort don’t come directly from the state. Not so in OneFamilyOneChildOneDoor. The play’s author/director, Joanna Chan, grew up in Guangzhou, so she’s no stranger to China’s one-child policy—in effect since 1973 but supposedly growing a little more lenient of late.

The drama, set in 1987, charts the story of Farmer Chang’s efforts to make his tiny family a little larger. With mixed success, the play tries to avoid demonizing any particular character; the otherwise draconian local committee woman and the nurse in charge of population control have the opportunity to say, hey, they have feelings, too. Certainly Farmer Chang, relentlessly good-natured, bears no grudges, so why should we? In the end, state policy takes a backseat to personal revelation when Chang overcomes his fears that his second child might turn out to be (gulp) a daughter. For Westerners, the lessons belabor the obvious, but anyone knowing the abortion rates of female fetuses in Asia can’t deny the topicality of the issues.

The ensemble has chemistry and charm, though an undisciplined zeal leads occasionally to overacting. As Farmer Chang, Brian Yang suffuses the production with affability and saves it from wallowing in earnestness.

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