Architecture of Rain

Courtesy of the Yale Dramat

Architecture of Rain, the Dramat’s first Fall Ex, is a masterfully crafted story of an Asian family’s grief. Written by Stefani Kuo, PC ’17, and directed by Gregory Ng, MC ’18, the show tells the story of mother Sol, Arya Sundaram, DC ’20, and her three daughters: Scy, played by Allison Du, TD ’20; Silina, played by Emily Locke, SM ’19; and All-Grown-Up, played by Evan Billups, MC ’20. While the entire cast, and much of the creative team, is composed of Asian women, only a few details details, like talk of showering before getting into the bath and wearing slippers in the house, hint at the family’s background. The play’s universality is important to Ng. In his director’s note he says that Kuo’s writing “insists upon our right to represent ourselves with richness, depth, and humanity: to finally be the tellers of our own stories and to embrace our Asianness without being limited by it.” The relatability of grief makes the play particularly poignant. As All-Grown-Up informs the audience in the beginning of the show, “At least if they feel sad they still feel human.” If that’s true, then not only are the characters human, but so are the audience members, who likely left the theater both in awe and in pain.

Part of this reaction stems from the juxtaposition of Billups’s All-Grown-Up, who is childlike and innocent without being gimmicky, with the deep emotional distress of her mother and sisters, who are distraught without being melodramatic. Losing a family member is always painful, but the loss of the youngest child seems especially difficult for the family. All-Grown-Up’s costume, a denim dress and striped leotard designed by Taylor Jackson, BK ’18, evokes both a worker and a child. It is the perfect combination for a daughter whose death shatters the family, but whose legacy helps put it back together. The first time All-Grown-Up enters the house is as a maintenance worker, called to fix the plumbing. The house, which constantly needs repairs, mirrors the family’s distress.  

The raw emotional pain of All-Grown-Up’s sisters and mother contrasts with the show’s airy design elements. Architecture of Rain is visually gorgeous. The set, designed by Hannah Kazis-Taylor, CC ’19, consists of a light wooden house frame with some Plexiglas panels. The family’s home is decorated mostly in white—the porcelain bathtub, chipping painted chairs, fluffy comforter, and thick candles—with touches of natural colors in the sage pillows, beige baskets, and evergreen side table. The costumes also contribute to the refinement of the show. The two older sisters and mother are dressed in dance attire—adorned leotards and long romantic tutus. Adding to the balletic aura of the costumes, all of the actors wear their hair in buns, designed by Garima Singh, PC ’20, except for All-Grown-Up, who wears hers, for the most part, in a ponytail. The lighting design, by Ngan Vu, ES ’19, is artfully done. During a scene on the beach, jade and sand colored lights fade and alternate. The beams of light make the Plexiglas panels appear to change color, which makes the light effects even more stunning. The elegance of the design elements ultimately mirrors the family’s grace in navigating the bereavement process.

Much as the audience must look through the Plexiglas panels in order to see the show, the story is told through a series of discrete windows, non-chronological scenes, into the family life. Even the family remembers All-Grown-Up in vignettes. Sometime after her death, they watch tapes on their small black television in which she dances, demonstrates Kung Fu moves, and talks about Lady Gaga. The videos, however, prove to be an imperfect method of commemorating the dead. When a power outage causes the video to disappear, Sol bangs on the television begging for it to come back. But the sisters can’t find a way to retrieve it.

The incident with the video tapes isn’t the only time Sol is concerned with documenting the family. Even before All-Grown-Up’s death, Sol shows off one of All-Grown-Up’s drawings of the family to Scy and Silina. Later, All-Grown-Up hangs translucent pictures that look like they were drawn by a child on the Plexiglas windows.

The presence of many frames—the windows of the house, edges of the TV screen, or borders of the drawings—emphasizes an attempt to capture the family. But since the very nature of encapsulation is to make it so the object cannot leave, the family’s attempts to capture All-Grown-Up are futile because she is already gone. This theme is reflected in Scy and Silina’s career aspirations. Scy wants to be a writer and Silina wants to be an architect; both of these professions involve trying to turn nothing into something by piecing together parts to create a coherent whole.

But Kuo’s text and Ng’s direction beautifully complicate how we both remember the dead and tell their stories. I thought the show was going to end at many points before it did—specifically, in moments of striking departure from form and reality. At one point a waterfall of glitter engulfs the three sisters. At another, All-Grown-Up brings on three red balloons one by one.

I also sometimes thought the show was ending because of repetition of an earlier piece of the text. Towards the end, a lullaby from the first half of the show returns. Scy, who has a monologue at the start of the show, had another heart-wrenching one near the close. The very structure makes the audience commiserate with the family, whose grief is ongoing.

Though time has passed since All-Grown-Up’s death, she does not appear to age until the very last scene, perhaps indicating that the family has allowed her to grow up so that her absence is not as painful. In the final scene, All-Grown-Up enters the house again as a maintenance worker in a lace yellow dress with her hair down,looking much more mature than she did in her previous costume. After climbing through a window, she calls to the family in a friendly voice, “Somebody called about construction…a paid job.” Once again, she holds the house together.

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