Rogue 2020 review: ‘Hello, Boar — You Must be Hungry’
The experience of watching Sarah Matsui’s solo performance show “Hello, Boar — You Must Be Hungry” encapsulates what can be most wonderful about the Rogue Festival. I had a slot to fill on my Friday night viewing schedule, and I picked this show pretty much at random. All I knew was that Matsui is from San Francisco, that she is Taiwanese-Japanese American, that Honolulu is a setting, and that a wild boar is involved.
The audience was small at VISTA Theatre for Matsui’s show, but the level of audience engagement — that elusive, hard-to-quantify, highly-sought-after connection between performer and observer — was off the charts. I could feel the bond. There was a special chemistry going on. People hugged Matsui when it was over. (Take that, Coronavirus.) I walked away in tears.
My advice, beyond seeing “Hello, Boar,” is this: Don’t play it safe at the Rogue. Sometimes it pays to take a chance.
Here’s a quick rundown on the show:
The performer and concept: Matsui divides the show into three parts. The first focuses on her Japanese-American father, a tough and blustery man whose kind heart can belie his gruff exterior. (He cries at the end of “Finding Nemo.”) Yet there’s a prickly counterbalance to her father’s “old softie” story: Estranged from her Taiwanese mother, he can be angry and lonely, even violent, with only his animals (including a boar that adopts him at his Hawaiian home) to make him right with the world. The second part of the show shifts the focus to her mother, who by the time Matsui reaches her college years at Penn has drifted into depression and suicidal tendencies. The daughter takes care of her, guiltily, not wanting her death to be on her conscience. The third part of the show is still in the writing stages; Matsui reads it from the page, and it is a short, tender conclusion to this verbal triptych she’s created. It both ties together the stories of her troubled parents and offers an astute commentary on the tangle between individuality and the collective that confronts her Asian-American generation.
The high points: Matsui brings a sunny, vibrant presence to the stage that pulls the audience in, and when things get more tender (and occasionally darker), she guides the listener gently. Her writing is smart and funny, helping us smell the breezes of Hawaii (“eucalyptus leaves and wild ginger”), see the clomping charm of her father, and experience her optimism even as the extent of her troubled childhood becomes clearer.
The not-so-high points: Matsui does a great impression of her father, giving him a huffy tone and blunt physicality, but she tends to rush his dialogue. She also needs to build in a little more time in the dramatic parts, giving some vocal space so the audience has time to absorb the fiercer moments (such as a pivotal scene with her father in a car). A one-person show lives and dies by its “beats,” or the rhythms of its prose, and stronger direction could make the material even more effective.
The takeaway: It’s a special show. See it.
The details: “Hello, Boar — You Must be Hungry” plays at the VISTA Theater 2 p.m. Sunday, March 8; 10 p.m. Friday, March 13; and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14. Tickets are $10.