K-Box

After living 30 years of her life the only way she can remember how (the way her adoptive parents taught her, who brought her from Korea to Australia), 34 year old Lucy finds herself experiencing an unravelling. Having left her partner and her job, she has returned home to her parents’ and found her room and her belongings gone. All she holds on to now is a cardboard box that she has been attached to since her childhood – she sits in it, plays with it, meditates on the small squiggle she inscribed inside it when she was four years old, and even brings the box to the dining table for meals. She is distressed about having lost what was inside the box, but her parents insist they are not responsible for its missing contents.

K-Box is a deeply human play about the experience of an interracial adoptee who was brought to a foreign country and raised without significant connection to her own heritage. Adopted at the age of four and not as a newborn, her loss of language, culture, and connection to her roots was factual, not just hypothetical. Her adoptive parents, who did not have the tools to recognize (let alone make space for) this loss, simply overrode the old with the new. This play follows Lucy’s journey of coming to terms with her loss for herself, and then attempting the brutal uphill task of confronting her parents’ seemingly benevolent ignorance in order to integrate her full experience into their family dynamic.

A small cast of four actors – Maude Davey, Susanna Qian, Syd Brisbane and Jeffrey Liu – brought Ra Chapman’s brilliant writing to life with uniquely convincing performances. Davey and Brisbane shared excellent comedic energy and timing in their interactions with each other as Lucy’s parents, and the contrast between Qian’s and Liu’s experiences of being Korean overseas were fantastic to watch. Liu’s bedazzling performance as a K-pop star and Davey, Brisbane, and Qian’s (Lucy’s family’s) consumption of his character were a powerful, cringe-inducing reality check.

Every character in the play was written realistically and portrayed relatably. There was a remarkable blend of comedic elements, softness/childlikeness, and the most well-intentioned villainy. The play powerfully raises the question, “how does one address and correct the devastating impacts of fully well-intended actions by people who meant no harm?” The steady flow of relational and interactive energy between the characters carried the show through its 100 minute runtime, but there was also enough written into each character that their backstories and worldviews could inform further musing well beyond the performance.

K-Box opens up some very important conversations around the ethics of interracial/international adoption, power imbalances, racism, fetishization, trauma, and the filters through which we see one another. It is an incredible achievement of this show that it addresses these things in a deeply empathetic way, creating space for every character to be seen as full, complex people, and therefore to act as a mirror for anyone in the audience who is willing to do the work to introspect about our own parallel, real world roles. The play doesn’t just stop at drawing attention to problems – it invites gentle reflection around where to go from here, both at an individual level as well as at relational and collective levels.

I do not have lived experience of being an adoptee, or being Korean, but I learnt a lot from what I saw in this show (understanding, of course, that every adoptee’s experience is unique). I did find a lot of resonance in this play even with my own immigrant experience in Australia though, and living in a world that is so heavily shaped by colonial legacies. At a more flippant level, I also felt refreshed and seen by 34 year old Lucy’s attachment to her box, since 35 year old I, too, have a cardboard box in my living room that I am attached to and like to play in.

K-Box is a powerful, thought-provoking production that balances important conversations with top notch aesthetic and creative skill: a must-watch.

[Featured image credit: Phoebe Powell. Maude Davey (L), Susanna Qian (R).]

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