Jade in the Coal: specific and timeless

Jace in the Coal

Jade in the Coal is about a Chinese immigrant coal mining community in Cumberland BC during 1900. It begins with vignettes of some common events in the miners lives such as working underground in the mine, sending letters and money back to families in China, gambling and eating. An underground explosion has killed many miners including the beloved father of Sally, the wife of Wu Kwun, the town's Chinese power broker. Sally and a young miner, Lew Chong, had hoped to marry before her father arranged her marriage to Wu Kwun. Wu Kwun has built a new hall and brought in the opera performers from China to perform a tragic story about a prince in love with a woman whose father arranged her marriage to the King to gain power as the Prime Minister. The performers and their show affect events in the community quite differently than Wu Kwun intended.

There is a lot of entertainment in over 150 minutes with impressive acrobatics, dance, instrumental music, singing, changing sets and elaborate costumes. Dialogue shifts between Cantonese and English with simultaneous Chinese and English translations projected on both sides of the stage. It provides an informative depiction of the life of the Chinese immigrants after the railroads were built dealing with matters specific to that time and place as well as the timeless issues of racial and gender discrimination, family relationships through love and death, and economic exploitation.

A very significant value of this production is how Paul Yee, the show's writer, melds Chinese Opera seamlessly into the story in a way that showcases the talents of both the opera performers from Guangdong China, Singapore and Canada, and stars of the Vancouver Asian theatre scene. It is an easy way to get a better appreciation of Chinese Opera since some of the scenes in the play deal with the challenges of how to properly perform some of its core voice and movement elements. This aspect of the production distinguishes it from another concurrently running show – Red Letters at the Roundhouse Performance Centre – which uses a contemporary musical format to portray urban Chinese immigrants in 1923, the year that the Exclusion Act replaced the head tax.

Jade in the Coal runs to December 4 at UBC's Frederic Wood Theatre. For more information, visit the production website

Note: With ongoing construction at the UBC campus, the nearest parking is now at the Chan Centre Rose Garden Parkade with elevator exit at the Flag Pole level 6 and then a short walk to the theatre entrance.

By Gerald Joe