Man in a Suitcase depicts a cross-section of New Zealand’s diverse Asian communities, from the descendants of the earliest immigrants to the contemporary difficulties facing mainland Chinese students who have come to study at university. The main drama concerns the murder of Wen Lin, a gay Chinese exchange student who, struggling to fit in in a new country, lies about his parents’ wealth back home and becomes a pawn in a drug deal.
Chanwai-Earle’s play, performed in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, employs running LED supertitles of the three languages on stage.
SCENE 1: ETERNITY IN A SUITCASE
Darkness. Rhythmical clacking of bamboo poles as they are beaten together, the music of the Kayin people fills the space.
From across the stage KAUKI PAW (the play’s narrator and sometimes invisible commentator) enters. She walks with a noticeable limp, a very large and heavy suitcase in tow. Dressed in a cleaners uniform, the name tag reads: "Hotel Papillion, Christchurch." She addresses the audience, simply:
"Eternity in a suitcase."
KAUKI PAW breaks into a children's nursery song, mimicking the actions.
"I'm a little hunk of tin, nobody knows what shape I'm in, I've got four wheels and a running board, I'm not a Chevy and I'm not a Ford. Honk, honk, rattle, rattle, rattle, Crash! Beep! Beep!"
She presses her nose like a horn, laughing. She parks the suitcase center stage.
If I were a rich woman I would not be here. If I were a poor woman I would not be here. I am what I am (beat) and I am ... here.
She looks out to the audience.
"The great hypercritical condescension of retrospect." One wise person said once. I put my head down. Keep quiet. This is how I get by. I don't want trouble. (Smiles, ironic) Yet here I am, studying to be a journalist. (Beat) My name is Kauki Paw. It means star flower in Karen. Star flowers are white with a beautiful fragrance and only grow in my country. We are Karen, from Myanmar. "Burma" to the British.
Singing to the tune of Frank Sinatra's rendition of "Come Fly with Me"
"On the road to Mandalay . . ."
She mimics "British received pronunciation"
"They met one night by the silver light on the road to Mandalay!" "Shooting an Elephant!" George Orwell! The British loved our country (sobering) for a while . . .
She quiets. Sounds of Kayin music fade up again, softly underneath.
My birth village is near the banks of the Salween River. My mother, Moh Moh, is Karen. My father, Pah Pah, is Mothi from Taungoo, his family were forestry workers, cutting teak and other hard woods. My Pah Pah became a school teacher, then a freedom fighter. Bogyoke Aung Sangwas our liberator. Father to our revered Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. (Beat) I am proud to bear this name Kauki Paw. I am honoured to carry in my heart Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all she has done for our people.
She begins partially unzipping the suitcase.
Here I am, learning to be a journalist, but they tell me my English must be better. On my first day at language school our teacher gave us an assignment. Write what you know, tell your story. One thousand words or less. You must fit your story into this space. I ask Mrs. Tung, "How does one do this? How do we tell our lives to fit this space? No less, no more?" She had no answer. Then I think of suitcases. Lives lived out of such small spaces and I think of a young man, trapped for eternity . . .
KAUKI PAW retreats into the shadows, but she is ever present throughout.
Darkness. Sounds of water lapping. A city harbor at night.
Faint strains of Bob Marley's song "Three Little Birds" float through the space, tinny and disembodied: "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right . . . "
Barely lit, the large suitcase sits alone for a moment. The music is muffled, as if it comes from within. Grunting sounds. The suitcase begins moving, shaking, unzipping from the inside out.
A leg appears, then an arm. WEN crawls out. His movements are desperate,panicked. He's drenched in thick, congealed blood.
WEN takes a moment, then pulls out his iPod earphones. Bob Marley's lyrics continue faintly in the background.
Little Emperors. That's what we are named. Only children, usually boys.
He pauses, taking stock of the audience.
Don't speak my language? (laughs, bitter) English will be replaced by Mandarin one day. China's already a super power. (Sighs) Okay. (Broken English) I try. Talk. Speak. English. For. You.
He fiddles with the Ipod, frustrated.
Who I am? Am I? We named "Little Emperor", only child, children. Many prefer boy, so many boy born in China. Girl – girls . . .
Struggles to explain, gives up.
I come here. New Zealand. To study, learn English. I got drunk. Got kidnap. Take me to hotel. Making me put on iPod. Telling me "Play favorite song Wen. Is okay Wen, don't cry. Be a man."
He mimics the song.
WEN "Don't worry 'bout a thing, cause every lil' thing gonna be alright" . . . Bob Marley.
(Smiles, BEAT) Then he stabbing me. Nghh, nghh, ngh. All the time, to music.
WEN grunts and stabs to the tune.
Nghh ahhee ugh-ah-ugghh . . . ! Before, I liking that song. Now it suck!
He points to his clothing, furious.
And he ruin my best shirt. Calvin Klein. Fuck. And he using my suitcase. MY suitcase. The one I got from home. The one my parent giving me when I leave China. And I stuck here. No money, no nothing. Dead head. Stuck in stupid suitcase. Stupid dead head stuck in shit!
WEN swears prolifically in Mandarin, a stream of pure invective - finishing his diatribe in English.
He catches a sob, falling to his knees. KAUKI PAW gently approaches him. WEN looks up, an acknowledgement, then silently folds himself back into the suitcase.
KAUKI PAW zips it up and takes the suitcase offstage.
Lynda Chanwai-Earle is a poet and playwright currently working at Radio New Zealand, National, as the Spoken Features Producer, for Voices. Her acclaimed theatre piece Ka-Shue (Letters Home) is the first New Zealand Chinese play. Man in a Suitcase premiered at the Court Theatre, Christchurch and toured to the Haidian Theatre, in Beijing (2012). Lynda was guest writer at; the Hong Kong Literary Festival 2001, Philippines Asia–Pacific Poetry Conference 2002, Trans-Tasman Writer 2003, and Shanghai Literary Festival 2005. She was short-listed twice for the Bruce Mason Award. The script for Man in a Suitcase will be published in 2016, by Playmarket.