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  • Ka-Shue (Letters Home)
  • Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Playwright's Note

I am Eurasian by ethnicity, a fourth-generation New Zealander. Based on the Chinese side of my family (the Tung clan of Bak-Chuen), Ka-Shue uncovers some of the last 150 years of a buried history in New Zealand. There has been a noticeable absence of a Chinese voice in this country. Perhaps it is because the Chinese community has been producing its own work for its own people, but this work has been largely inaccessible to a wider public until now. The material has often been spoken in Chinese, and not produced for mainstream audiences.

In writing Ka-Shue I have focused on the personal and domestic lives of three generations of a Chinese family. Ka-Shue spans the cultures of New Zealand and China, encompassing a broad sweep of the political events between the two countries as a backdrop for the personal dramas of the characters. This play is dedicated to my family.

I am aware that this play is close to the bone as far as my family history is concerned, but I hope in the end that I have attempted a universal story about immigration, about the systematic alienation of particular immigrant groups. For me Ka-Shue is also a story about immigrant women, struggling to make for themselves a sense of home and identity.

The play works most effectively with minimal props and furniture, which remain on stage throughout. Descriptions such as the venetian blinds of the hotel windows or Paw paw's graveside can be lit areas played out to the audience. Ka-Shue is set in several time frames—1939, 1941, 1945, 1959, and 1989—and the scenes weave seamlessly between them. Ka-Shue can be played by one actor or a full cast (as a series of monologues). If one actor is used, it is preferable to use only one costume and have the actor portray character changes through voice and body.

Time and place can be evoked with the help of live music (preferably with a blend of Western and traditional Chinese instruments). The ghost's movements are loosely based on the performance style of the Peking Opera and should be graceful and surreal, as if she is the link between the living and the dead. [End Page 46]

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My parents, Mayme Chanwai and Michael Earle, New Zealand, circa 1962

[End Page 47]

Cast of Characters

Played by one actor:


Abbie's daughter. Born in New Zealand. Fourth-generation New Zealander. Eurasian. Student in her early twenties.


The mother. Born in China. Divorcée. Cantonese.

New Zealand Chinese business woman.


The grandmother. Born in China. 'Old' Chinese. Conservative.

Hard working. Owns and runs the family green grocer shop in Wellington. Gung gung's 'First Wife.'


The grandfather. Born in China. 'Old' Chinese. Conservative.

Always well dressed. Addicted mah-jong gambler.

Has three wives and a concubine, Lady Li.


Gung gung's concubine. Birth mother to Abbie. Committed suicide shortly after Abbie was born.



Jackie's father. Abbie's ex-husband. Pakeha (referred to by Paw paw as the 'guilo'—foreign white devil).


Abbie's older half-brother. Their mother's favourite child.


Sister of Paw paw. [End Page 48]

Act One

The stage is bare except for a wooden chair, a small camphor wood chest and a long, red backdrop centre upstage. The Ghost's headpiece is suspended just above head height in front of the red backdrop. To the left and right of the backdrop stand two waist-high plinths. A cigarette in a holder and a cigarette lighter sit on one plinth. A mock-up of a baby in swaddling sits hidden near the red backdrop. The following props sit on the chest: a 1940s telephone, rice bowl and chopsticks, brandy balloon with cognac, mah-jong piece, a knife, a single white rose, an ashtray, a dictaphone, and two pieces of folded red paper that act as mail. Several long red cloths (similar to the backdrop) and a white baby blanket...


Additional Information

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pp. 46-69
Launched on MUSE
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