Diana Tso’s Toronto Production of The Monkey Queen Redefines a Classic Hero

Diana Tso grew up adoring bedtime stories that centred around the figure of the monkey king from Wu Cheng’En’s sixteenth-century epic novel The Journey to the West.

“As a child I was thrilled by their superpowers. As for the monkey king, his powers to shape shift into anything and play tricks on everyone, as well as his magic ability for cloud soaring, provoked me to jump all over the furniture pretending to have the same superpowers,” says Tso. “He was able to use his powers and magic to protect the monk he was destined to guard on a long dangerous journey west from China to India.”

When Tso learned that a new play was being developed starring this classic character, she really wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, women were not allowed to audition for the part. She then had an epiphany to create her own version of this male-dominated story, re-imagined from a female “warrior” perspective. That idea culminated in a complete production, The Monkey Queen, which runs November 15–December 2 at the Theatre Centre Incubator (1115 Queen Street W). 

We chatted with Tso about the play this week. 

SDTC: Why do you think the story of The Monkey King still resonates with you years later?

DT: What resonated with me is the journey—our personal, epic journey—and how we travel on it and why. I want to express my personal and mythological journey, born in the west and constantly travelling east in search of my identity and drawn to its mythologies. I also wanted to explore the warrior through the female perspective, as most hero stories, like The Monkey King, are male dominant.

What was the biggest challenge in adapting the story of The Monkey King to make your own performance of The Monkey Queen?

The biggest challenge was to not have my original Monkey Queen story be compared to The Monkey King and to stand alone and empowered just as she is as a unique heroine with her own story.

What did you learn about yourself while creating this play?

I re-affirmed my joy in storytelling and how married my way of creating is to movement and music, an inseparable troika. I continue to love working with artists who love movement and taking risks and [who push] me to take risks as a playwright and performer.

What is the biggest hurdle that Asian-Canadian female actors face?

How do we stand as individuals and not be compartmentalized by our race and gender [as we do during] Asian Heritage Month or International Women’s Day? Why can’t we as women and [the] rich cultural heritage of our roots be honoured all year round?

What do you hope audiences take away from this play?

I hope audiences will be touched and provoked to connect their personal stories with our mythic global stories. I hope to share the gifts of my Chinese ancestry and culture. I hope the story will ignite [the audience’s] desire to take journeys across Canada and other countries through travel and through all forms of art, from literature to theatre to paintings, and connect with each other and share their own stories.

Get your tickets to The Monkey Queen here.

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