Tags: asian-american

piranha - bored blunt cut.

Theater: Warrior Class (Theatreworks)

Warrior Class
By Kenneth Lin

Son of Chinese immigrants, decorated vet, and a charismatic speaker, congressional candidate Julius Lee is dubbed “The Republican Obama.” But when word of a youthful indiscretion threatens scandal, he discovers the dangerous intersection of politics and idealism. In this taut, topical saga of backroom electioneering, the campaign lies ahead, the warriors are at hand, and our future’s at stake.

Sounds exciting, right?

Warrior Class kicked off Theatreworks’ 2013-14 season with political drama. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. I mean, there’s a reason I’ve never committed to political TV shows like House of Cards (which, incidentally, the playwright wrote for) or The West Wing. Real-life politics has become such a theater and a mess that fictional spins just don’t sound entertaining. But on the other hand, Theatreworks usually does a great job casting their plays and making an otherwise unexciting story difficult to forget.

After watching the play, I’m still not sure what I think. Was it good? I dunno. The actors were talented, and really created believable people in their characters. But sometimes, the script would develop this stiffness that made it impossible to forget that the conversation was staged. It didn’t flow naturally, and the odd pauses and gaps just seemed to underline how “fake” everything was. But maybe I was the only one to hear it that way.

I was often bored, but again, I’m not sure why, other than a general apathy towards politics. Maybe the “youthful indiscretion” didn’t seem as terribly derailing to a political campaign as Julius and his campaign manager Nathan made it out to be. Julius’ ex-girlfriend believes that he stalked her after they broke up, and frightened her so much that she lost focus and never recovered. To me, her case never seemed solid. After she had been speaking to Julius and Nathan for only a few minutes, she comes across as a frustrated woman blaming Julius for her own failures so that she wouldn’t have to be responsible. But I suppose that in a highly publicized campaign, that wouldn’t come across. She seems even less of a victim when she proceeds to demand certain benefits from Julius in exchange for keeping silent.

Julius suffered from a lack of personality. It’s not the fault of actor Pun Bandhu, it’s simply that Julius isn’t written with much to say. By the end of the play, what do we know about him? He likes to eat popcorn. He was once in love with a girl and after they broke up he didn’t think his actions through. He has a wife who loses a baby and yet it does little to shape his character.

Overall, kind of a snoozer.
piranha - kissing mirrors.

Yellow Face

So last night my brother and I went up to Mountain View to see Yellow Face, the 2007 comedy by David Henry Hwang, the playwright responsible for M. Butterfly and the reworking of Flower Drum Song a few years ago. Theatreworks usually puts on excellent plays, and this was no exception. Yellow Face follows David Henry Hwang as he becomes a major playwright and voice for the Asian-American community. He even leads a protest against the casting of a white actor in one of the lead roles in Miss Saigon. But when Hwang accidentally casts a white man in the lead of his latest play (he thinks the actor is part-Asian; after all, you just can't tell with all these part-Asians running around!) he saves face by convincing the world that the actor's ancestry is, in fact, Asian. But soon this actor, Marcus, has become the new spokesperson and face of the Asian-American community, which throws Hwang into a fury because how can someone represent the Asian experience when he isn't even Asian?

It was a very interesting play. Lots of reflection on race and how one defines it, and the subtle racism that many minorities still face today. As one character complains in the clip below, you always get asked "Where are you from?" and when you answer, "Stockton, California!" the next question is always "No, where are you really from?"

Francis Jue was in this production; I've seen him in several plays before, including M. Butterfly (which was seriously one of my favorite live performances ever!) and Into the Woods. He's a fantastic actor. He also succinctly summarized why I think I like Hwang's plays so much when he said, "For me, Hwang's work has been a seminal part of being Asian-American in this culture. It's about feeling alienated in your own country." (Bold is mine.) In the second act, that alienation plays a major role as the US Government begins cracking down on Chinese-American bankers and scientists, investigating them for espionage, in the late 1990s. Even in California, where I live, there's still this undercurrent in society that Asians may be the Model Minority, but they're still the 'other' and no matter how many generations your family has been here, Asian-Americans can't be 'real' Americans. (Even if, in some cases, your Chinese ancestors got here before the European ancestors of the "real" American saying this!)

Anyway. Great play. Really enjoyed it. I wish I'd seen it sooner, so I'd have more time to convince some of my friends to see it, but unfortunately the run ends tomorrow so getting others to go seems quite unlikely. But hey, if you live in the Bay Area, try to get a ticket for the Sunday show. It's really, really worth your time.

Since I like videos, here's one of the playwright talking about the play: