In February 2020, while dealing with bushfires and the looming pandemic, Michele Lee called her parents every day for 30 minutes. How Do I Let You Die? is a culmination of those conversations resulting in a gentle interrogation of life and death through the perspective of her Hmong parents and Lee's relationship with them.
As we take our seat, actor Alice Qin sits at a desk covered with post-it notes and politely acknowledges us. She introduces herself as writer Michele Lee, and begins to share with us the conversations with her parents, what brought her to that point and where these conversations led her.
While Qin delivers an assured yet naturalistic performance as Lee, there is too much happening in this production with the live performance, projections, audio recordings and a film that is cut into short segments. These need to complement each other but the change from one to other was like switching between channels on the TV, with the film particularly out of place with its direction and how it is viewed in the venue. Similarly, the narrative covers too much material that results in a muddled and unclear central point of focus for the audience. Lee’s presenting of this information doesn’t permit us to consider anything beyond the surface level so we end up with a range of topics being touched on.
The traverse theatre design works against the content of the production and would have worked better with the audience on one side of the stage, facing in the same direction. Here, Qin is drowned out by the large empty space and the projections - both on the wall and the floor – diminish her presence. The intimacy and warmth necessary to discuss issues around family and death is missing from the set design and the direction by Sapidah Kian, and it ends up feeling like a TED talk instead of a performance.
The sound design is also distracting with various scratching and static noises playing throughout, and at times over Qin's monologue. A number of the recordings between Lee and her parents also start to play as Qin is speaking to us and if intentional, need to be removed so our focus can remain on Qin.
In one of her recordings, Lee mentions to her father that she intends to put the first iteration of this work to a small group of people and then see what happens with it. One can't help but wonder what the feedback / response was, because How Do I Let You Die? requires more structure and assertiveness. There's a lot of wondering about death and what comes next, but some time should have been spent contemplating what this show is.
Venue: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
Season: until 26 November | 7:30pm, 5pm Sun
Duration: 90 minutes
Tickets: $35 Full | $20 Concession
Bookings: Arts House
Image credit: Sarah Walker