Tetsuro Shigematsu in Empire of the Son. Photo by Raymond Shum.
Tetsuro Shigematsu in Empire of the Son. Photo by Raymond Shum.

Using video playback, audio recordings, clown, and dance, Tetsuro Shigematsu weaves his father’s legacy through his own in a deft exploration of inter-generational communication.

Directed by Donna Yamamamoto and performed by the writer, Empire of the Son is a riveting, beautiful ballet of deep emotional storytelling.

While Tetsuro grew up a skateboarder in the cosmopolitan world of Vancouver’s suburbs, his father was a young man fleeing the atrocities of post-war Japan. One carried memories of his father on BBC radio. The other, his father appearing at the train station as an old man haunted by war.

Shigematsu winds the stories of his father’s life through his own experiences as a young man and a father who, at the height of his own physical prowess, must carry his elderly father to his deathbed.

Empire of The Son explores the emotional timbre of the Shigematsu story through image as much as words. His father was a radio host. He is a former radio host and filmmaker. Using microphones, cameras, and the simplest of toy figures, Shigematsu expands beyond the black box to envelop the audience in a stop-motion world that cuts out the complexity of day to day life. A conversation over a skateboard becomes a defining moment while a drop of paint in water resounds with the earth shattering force of an atomic bomb.

The set design (Pam Johnson) and lighting design (Gerald King) work in tandem to create a space that feels like Doc Brown’s living room. A comfortable chair and carpet on the left, a sterile counter and lab on the right. Yet a confluence of lighting cues and physical movement by Shigematsu alters each meter into a multitude of possibilities.

Handling technical difficulties with the smooth charm of a ringmaster, watching Shigematsu is like watching an incredible party host. Generous, present, and always ready to provide another tidbit, but without overstaying his time at any point.

Empire of the Son is a slick, cinematic re-imagining of what a one-man show can be.

Empire of the Son by Tetsuru Shigematsu. A Gateway Theatre presentation of a Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production. Directed by Richard Wolfe. On stage at Gateway Theatre (6500 Gilbert Rd, Richmond) until November 17. Visit gatewaytheatre.com for tickets and information.