[Will the real Rachel Chu please stand up?]
Co-created and performed by Nathan Joe, Amanda Grace Leo, Ravi Lloyd Gurunathan and Angela Zhang, I am Rachel Chu is a parody, critical response, and humorous ‘rewrite’ of the story of Rachel Chu — the heroine from the Hollywood blockbuster and bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians. Described as an attempt ‘to liberate our Asian Cinderella from her oppressive fairy tale narrative’, ideas of Asian representation, stereotypes, and the rewriting of ‘happily-ever-after’ narratives are explored and disrupted.
The play begins with all four actors dressed in white undergarments, with Joe playing the role of narrator, whilst Angela, Ravi and Amanda share the role of Rachel. They begin with a discussion of ‘Rachel’ — the meaning of her name, her facial features, her roots relating to her Chinese surname. Fast-paced and witty, the actors go through the narrative plot and key moments from the movie/book Crazy Rich Asians, which mainly revolve around the love story between Rachel and her extremely wealthy boyfriend Nick Young. Instead of just re-enacting the storyline from the film/book, the actors interject the narrative with their own stories and flashbacks relating to their lives in Auckland.
The interjections, games and audience involvement keep the tone humorous and the pace of the show quick, including a child’s hand clapping game listing the ‘20 ways to tell if you have Asian parents’, and a rap song performed by Ravi (a feat considering he had to use the word ‘rich’ 56 times). These, together with the outfit changes on stage, generate a lot of laughter from the audience. The climax of the show involves a re-enactment of the wedding scene of Araminta and Colin’s wedding (Nick’s best friend). Audience members are enlisted to play some of the characters. On the night I attended, a young man from the audience was to play the bride, wearing a white dress and veil. The audience were given lights and confetti to throw at ‘her’ as she walked down the ‘aisle’. When the lyrics of the wedding song popped up on the large screen, I could not help but sing along to a karaoke version of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. This was the moment where I found myself really enjoying the show — remembering the opulent, over-the-top romantic scene from Crazy Rich Asians whilst simultaneously feeling fully involved as a participant/wedding guest to a crude yet very comic re-enactment.
I am Rachel Chu is a funny and witty response to a hugely popular film, and the way it has been discussed in the media. All the actors give strong performances, with a lot of energy coming from Ravi and Amanda. The role of Nathan Joe as a visible narrator and commentator is cleverly executed. The contentious topics of representation and the reliance on the ‘happily-ever-after’ fairy tale trope could have been delved into deeper. If the goal of the show was to rewrite the ‘crazy rich Asian’ stereotype and Rachel’s Cinderella narrative (where the woman’s goal in life is to snag a rich prince charming), the ending does not quite ‘tie it all together with a bang’ for me.
All in all, I am Rachel Chu explores some contentious topics through humour and parody. Whether you love Crazy Rich Asians or not, I am Rachel Chu is both a critical response and celebration, making me reassess my own ambivalent thoughts and feelings towards the film. Plus, I had a lot of fun.
I am Rachel Chu plays Basement Theatre until 23 February.