Category Archives: theatre

Coming Attractions: George Takei And Lea Salonga In Allegiance

By Arturo R. García

We generally don’t review a lot of plays here at the R, but this looks to be a marked exemption: next month will see the premiere of Allegiance, a musical starring George Takei and Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga, in my town, and I’m planning on being there.

The show will follow the Omura family, who are among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II. Takei plays Sam Kimura, who is forced to confront his estrangement from his family in the decades after the war, while Salonga, in flashbacks, plays Sam’s older sister Kim, who finds herself on her own collision course with her family’s stance during their imprisonment.

Earlier this year, Takei used his online popularity to raise $150,000 for the show in an IndieGogo campaign. The show will hit the stage about a year after doing workshop performances in Los Angeles. During the production’s pre-Broadway run in San Diego, an art installation honoring internment camp residents will be on display in the theater.

The show debuts not long after another local production, The Nightingale, was criticized for going with “colorblind casting” in a play set in ancient China, leading to an audience protest during a workshop performance last month.

“Inadvertently, this kind of thing says you continue to be irrelevant,” one attendee said. “Reminds me how invisible [Asians] still are and how we are so often not invited to sit at the table. The play takes place in an Asian country and it is like a knife to the heart.”

Five Times Golden: Audra McDonald Makes History At The Tony Awards

By Arturo R. García

Audra McDonald calls the theater her home. Sunday night she took her place at the head of the table.

McDonald’s star turn in a revival of Porgy & Bess culminated in her winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the fifth Tony of her career. But as Shadow and Act’s Tambay reported Monday, not only has McDonald reached some rarified air–she’s only the third woman ever (and first woman of color) to win this many Tonys–but she’s done so with shocking efficiency: she’s appeared in only 10 Broadway productions since 1991.

“To help put this into some perspective,” Tambay writes, “imagine a Hollywood actress making 10 movies over a 20 year period, and winning Academy Awards (whether supporting or lead) for her performances in 5 of them.”

Tambay also raises a good question–where could McDonald, who also has two Grammy Awards and two Emmy Award nominations under her belt, go from here? One tantalizing possibility: Aretha Franklin reportedly wants McDonald to play her in a movie. For now, at least, McDonald’s run in Porgy & Bess has been extended thru September. A transcript of McDonald’s acceptance speech from Sunday night is under the cut.
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Asian American Actors Are Missing On Broadway Stages

Courtesy Reuters

By Guest Contributor Marissa Lee, cross-posted from Racebending

It’s been over twenty years since Asian Americans rallied on Broadway against yellowface and “racebending” in Miss Saigon–the same protest that inspired our work against The Last Airbender here at Racebending.com–but Asian Americans are still not getting roles on Broadway.

Enter the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), a group that has organized to help actors of color overcome obstacles to bring more inclusive casting to New York City stages. AAPAC is focused on changing Asian perceptions and opportunities within the New York theatre industry only. It was created by a group of Asian American performers in 2011 in response to what was perceived as a lack of access to opportunities within mainstream New York theatre. Continue reading

Announcement: 2012 Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival Now Accepting Submissions

By Arturo R. García

The Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival contacted us with the heads-up: the submission period has opened for this year’s event, scheduled to run June 16-17 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

There is no submission fee for entries sent before Feb. 15, but entries submitted between Feb. 16 and March 15 must be accompanied by a $50 fee. We’ve got information on each category, and links to the required submissions forms, under the cut.
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Much Ado About Race, Class, Gender, and Cuba [Culturelicious]

Borachio and Margaret

On Sunday, I walked into the Shakespeare Theatre to join a bunch of academics in a three part discussion about the currently playing update of Much Ado About Nothing. I tweeted about the event that morning, and while we were in the green room, I received a link from Tony Adams of the Halcyon Theatre in Chicago pointing me towards an amazing analysis of race, stereotypes, and using culture as window dressing by Marisela Treviño Orta.

I read it eagerly, especially as it spoke to some of the questions I had viewing the play. But, there was a conundrum – I was called to specifically discuss modern gender portrayals in conversation with a gender scholar specializing in the Renaissance era. Added to that, most of what I know about Cuba I learned from Yoani Sanchez and The Lost City – which really amounts to a few glimpses and a bunch of knowledge gaps.

So we went ahead with the discussion as planned. For my part, I discussed with Holly Dugan how Claudio is essentially the crackerjack prize for Hero when compared to the other men in the play. We also framed the conversation around the death of intellectual equals in pop culture – how the banter and game of match wits that was so popular in classic films is remembered fondly but has mostly vanished. It didn’t seem as if the crowd was really into modern culture – a lot of folks came up to me afterward saying they had never seen Mad Men, much less anything else I brought up, so who knows that they actually got out of what I was saying. Makes me feel like it’s time to dust off that copy of Nobrow and do a serious write about the imagined boundaries between “high” and “low” culture. But I digress.

Towards the end of the segment, I decided to bring up Orta’s piece, noting that “setting a work on a plantation is a very loaded act,” added a couple of questions I had, and toss it to the next panel who dealt with the portrayal of Cuba and Cuban history directly.

But I couldn’t bring up all of Orta’s analysis right then, so some things (like the reason she wrote the piece in the first place) so it wasn’t addressed – some of the choices that pulled the play from homage to problematic. Orta explains:

There’s a character in Much Ado with the name Jose Frijoles. What the what?!

This required further investigation. I went to the theatre’s website to look at the “Artists Involved” (that’s where you’ll find the names of the actors and the characters they play).

Guess what, there’s also a character named Juan Arroz.

Isn’t that awesome [sarcasm], there are two characters named Rice and Beans. [...]

The choice to rename two characters Arroz and Frijoles in my mind is a flippant one. Or how ‘bout this: a gimmicky one. [...]

[W]hen I come across characters named Arroz and Frijoles I am little irked. It feels like the play is going for the easy laugh, it feels like very little real thought was put into naming these characters, like it doesn’t really respect the culture it is supposedly trying to reach or celebrate with its Latino production.

Oh, but it’s a joke. Don’t you get it? They’re the clowns, so they have clownish names. (Rib jab, rib jab).

Well, guess what. I’m not laughing. And I’m not the only one.

Orta then goes into a detailed explanation of why the naming was so off, particularly considering the dominant culture of the people attending the play and some conversation around the flippant naming in light of director Ethan Sweeny’s heavy reliance on the sexy, macho, and the exotic stereotypes to evoke certain reactions in the audience. But most damning, she writes, is “that the culture and setting, while well-researched, is nothing more than a well-designed prop, an adornment.” Continue reading

On Racism, Theater, and Trouble In Mind [Culturelicious]

Trouble in Mind

I’ve been to a great many plays on race. Some, like August Wilson’s Jitney, manage to survive through the ages and provide a stunningly timeless view on the problems of the colorline.

Others, like David Mamet’s Race or Neil Labute’s This Is How It Goes, make me realize how much of an abstract concept racism’s pervasiveness can be for white people. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream art world is controlled by white people, and therefore what is considered worthy of production is shaped by white perceptions.

Trouble in Mind has been resurrected, but there are always complications. Over at the Arena Stage website, Irene Lewis speaks to the cause of the persistent racial gap in evaluation of material:

For years, the play Trouble in Mind, by African-American playwright Alice Childress, was recommended to me as a show that, as artistic director of CENTERSTAGE, I should produce. I had read the play several times over the years and found it to be “old-fashioned/old hat,” especially concerning the depiction of the character of the white director. Finally, I decided to ask the opinion of an African-American actress whose judgment I have always valued. She read the play and told me that she liked it. When I asked if she found the role of the white director dated and unbelievable, she said, “No.” So I came around to the opinion that this was another case of – what should I call it – whites (me) being “out of touch” with the experiences of African-Americans. I decided to produce and direct the play at CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore. It subsequently transferred to Yale Repertory Theater. I am delighted that Molly is bringing this groundbreaking piece to Arena Stage.

“Out of touch” is the last term I would use to describe Childress’ noted work, considering it was originally performed in 1955. Considering the play was created more than five decades ago, it should not be so fresh and contemporary. And yet, we live in an era in which a white woman’s tale about a white woman and the black maids she liberated swept the bestseller’s list and the box office – clearly, things haven’t changed that much. So why the disconnect between black and white theater aficionados? As Childress herself has stated:

“There aren’t any black critics who can close a white play. But in black theater, black experience has been fought against by white critics. The white critic feels no obligation to prepare himself to judge a black play.”

And so, here we are. Continue reading

Bad Feet, Will Travel: Oedipus El Rey Provides a Chicano Take on Faith, Love, and Tragedy

Oedipus El Rey and Jocasta

by Latoya Peterson

I thought I knew Oedipus Rex.

The first time I read Sophocles’ masterful Greek tragedy was in the 11th grade.  There, scribbling out an analysis as part of a 40 minute timed writing, I focused on what epitomized Oedipus for me – the struggle between fate and free will. After hearing from the Oracle that he was fated to murder his father and to sleep with his mother, Oedipus does what any rational person would do – he tries to put as much distance as he can between himself and the only family he knows. Unfortunately, prophecies are not so easily averted – Oedipus never knew he was adopted, and thus did not know the man he slew on the road to Thebes was his father; nor did he know the beautiful widow he would eventually marry was his birth mother.

Back then, I wrote about the icy hand of irony in Oedipus’ journey -  how he closed himself to what would have revealed the truth because of his hubris, but once he finds out he literally blinds himself.  But what really stuck with me was the idea of fate.  If your life is predestined – and all roads will lead to your eventual path – what is the point of having free will? Life never promised to be fair, but the fates are needlessly cruel, especially in Greek mythology.  And so, when I heard about a retelling of Oedipus Rex, set in the barrios of LA with a Chicano protagonist, I could immediately see the connection.

Indeed, the idea of being trapped by larger, unseen forces makes a lot of sense when thrust into a modern context. Oedipus El Rey bases its narrative in California’s penal system, with the title character Oedipus (also nicknamed patas malas due to the torture inflicted by his father at his birth) growing up in juvenile detention.  At one point, Oedipus confesses that after he was released at the age of seventeen, he robbed a Costco without a gun, just so he could be returned to jail.  It was a powerful admission – that so many boys who go into the criminal justice system at an early age come out without any sense of what it means to function in society, that there are people who come to prefer the steady monotony of incarceration than be forced to cope with the unstructured chaos of real life. The idea that regardless of your own intentions, one might still end up ensnared in forces beyond your control resonated with me. I could understand that.

So, playwright Luis Alfaro threw me for a loop when he replied to one of my questions, saying the play, at its core, was “about love.” Continue reading

Culturelicious: How do you feel about Hamas?

By Fatemeh Fakhraie, cross-posted from her blog

Last Sunday, I went to a local production of Jennifer Jajeh’s solo show “I Heart Hamas.” The show’s site gives a pretty good synopsis:

With the current ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, the threat of global terrorism, and the never-ending negotiations and hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by all of the bad international news. That’s exactly how Jennifer Jajeh feels. And to make matters worse, Jennifer is Palestinian. Well, Palestinian American. Or more precisely: a single, Christian, first generation, Palestinian American woman who chooses to return to her parents’ hometown of Ramallah at the start of the Second Intifada.

Join her on American and Palestinian soil on auditions, bad dates, and across military checkpoints as she navigates the thorny terrain around Palestinian identity. Weaving together humor, slides, pop culture references and live theatre, Jajeh explores how she becomes Palestinian-ized, then politicized and eventually radicalized in a fresh, often funny, searingly honest way.

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