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Jovanni Sy’s murder mystery ‘Nine Dragons’ goes onstage in Vancouver

/ 11:47 PM April 06, 2018

VANCOUVER —  A killer is littering 1924 Kowloon with the corpses of mutilated women. Police detective Tommy Lam must investigate the case while dealing with condescending British counterparts from Scotland Yard.

That’s the premise of Jovanni Sy’s “Nine Dragons,” a noir mystery play that will be staged by Gateway Theater this month.

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Directed by Craig Hall, the play is a co-production with Vertigo Theatre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre—venues where it has had performances last year as part of the whodunit’s multi-venue world premiere.

Playwright Jovanni Sy. CONTRIBUTED

Praise for last year’s performances include “whip-smart” (Globe and Mail), “provocative … cinematic” (Winnipeg Free Press), “more here than initially meets the eye … [giving it] bite” (CBC.ca), “pulls no punches about ranks and race” (Downtown Calgary), and “impresses” (Calgary Herald).

Fan letter

“This is a very personal piece for me,” Sy writes in the season lineup brochure for Gateway Theatre, where he is artistic director.

“First, it speaks to my life-long love of mysteries—the play is like a fan letter to my favorite fictional detectives of yesteryear.

“But it’s also personal because the play is for anyone who has ever felt like they’re on the outside looking in. My detective, Tommy Lam, is a voice we don’t see represented on stage much.”

Mystery lover

Sy explains that the initial idea for this play was sparked when he saw an old black-and-white photograph of a dapper Asian man in a Western suit.

“Something about that picture revealed a whole world to me. I knew immediately that I wanted to construct a mystery,” he says.

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John Ng (left) will reprise his role as Tommy Lam in “Nine Dragons.” TIM NGUYEN

Sy has always been a lover of mysteries “in all formats—novels, films, whatever—since I was young.”

He noticed that there haven’t been too many mysteries written for the stage in the last few decades. “I wanted to add to that canon and to create a new story with an Asian man as its hero.”

Iterations

He first wrote the draft of “Nine Dragons” in 2012. “There have been substantial revisions between then and now. In particular, the play’s ending changed a number of times.

“With each iteration, however, I learned something and received great advice from my peers and from my colleague Craig Hall.”

The pair worked together on workshops of the material, which helped Sy through the revision process.

“I had a clearer idea of how to rewrite the draft to improve it. I think, in the end, we’ve created a compelling and entertaining story that will resonate with all Asian Canadians.”

 Artistic leader

Sy assumed the position of artistic director of Gateway Theatre in 2012.

Born in Manila, Sy was raised in Toronto. “I was only four months old when my family moved from Manila to Burnaby. We lived in the Lower Mainland until I was four years old and then moved to Toronto.”

He was based in Toronto professionally for 20 years as an actor, playwright, director, and dramaturg.

For six seasons, he was the artistic director of Cahoots Theatre Company. (He was succeeded by Filipino Canadian Nina Lee Aquino from 2009 to 2013.)

Book launch

There will be a book launch of “Nine Dragons” on April 17 co-hosted with Talonbooks and LiterASIAN Festival.

Ticket holders for that evening’s performance can avail of a discount on the book.

A book launch of “Nine Dragons” will be held on April 17. CONTRIBUTED

Other plays Sy has written include “The Birth of the American Empire (as told by those who received the Blessings of Liberty),” an epic drama set during the Spanish-American War.

He’s also written a one-person play, “A Taste of Empire,” which explores colonialism through food, labor, and immigration.

Directing

As an actor, Sy has performed with companies across Canada. His most recent appearance was in “Fear of Flight” at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre during the 2010 Winter Olympics. He has also appeared in film and television.

His directing credits include Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone,” David Harrower’s “Blackbird (in Hong Kong), among others.

Sy will be directing one of Gateway Theatre’s plays for the upcoming 2018–19 season.

“It’s a hilarious comedy and I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “Stay tuned for our season announcement on April 13!”

“Nine Dragons” runs April 12–21 at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Rd., Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Visit Gatewaytheatre.com.

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TAGS: Craig Hall, Filipino Chinese Canadian playwright, Gateway Theater, Jovanni Sy, Nine Dragons, noir play, stage production, Tommy Lam, Vertigo Theater, Walter Ang
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