Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Theatre Superlatives

"What good thing have you seen lately?"

That's the question I'm usually asked when I tell people that I write about theater (for a living, wow). It's as if because I report on it, I am suddenly the guru of good theatrical tastes. And since year-end lists and summations are "a la mode" during this time in the season, I want to offer something in the stream-of-consciousness vein. I'm realizing that the more theater I see, the more they start to blend together. And what makes a play stand out in your memory, even months later, were small moments that just burrowed deep into your brain and refused to let go.

So here is the 2012 Deep (Diep) Theater Superlatives!, a list of shows that were memorable in many different ways to me. It's not a complete list of the best things I saw this year, it's even more subjective than that. These plays, at different price points, in different locales in New York City, did what the arts does best, grab a piece of your soul and leave their mark on it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"The Hobbit" aka Dammit Peter Jackson!

Gandalf: worst party promoter ever.

I saw "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" film at midnight on opening night. I sat my butt down at the theater at Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side at 10:30 PM, excited and just a little bit sleepy. I exited the theater 4.5 hours later at 3 a.m. incredibly sleepy, drained and disappointed, like I'd been cramming for a college exam that I probably won't get an A on. And my thoughts after went something like: "Oh god I know I'm going to sit through two more of these and it's going to be so fucking long!"

Compare this to my thoughts after seeing "Fellowship of the Ring" 12 (WTF?!) years ago, which was, "Oh my god, I have no idea what I just saw but I love it and what happens next?!" Which was quickly followed by an explanation of the ending of "Return of the King," which was followed by a "WTF, Frodo fails?!" I was a very easily excitable 13 year old (like almost all 13 year olds).

I tried to figure out why it was that I, as a self-professed Ringer who dressed up as a hobbit and then Eowyn for Halloween, who has the Evenstar necklace, was unsatisfied. Then my roommate gave me the answer: "Every moment was like a parody of itself."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tweeting in the Theater (No, Just No)

Like most people in their 20's (aka Millennials), I have a very intimate relationship with my cellphone. It's underneath my pillow when I sleep at night (not for any emotional reason, it's because the outlet for my phone charger is next to my bed and I don't own a nightstand). My phone is on my desk at work. It's in my pocket when I'm on the subway. And it has a name when I plug it into my MacBook: it's Pippin. In short, I probably spend more time with my phone than with any other piece of technology, jewelry or memento that I own. Who needs a teddy bear when you have an iPhone to hug at night?

Which is why when a cellphone goes off while I'm at the theater, I get irrationally angry. Why? It goes without saying but a cellphone ring is distracting and when you're at the theater, it takes you out of a connective moment that you were having with the actors on the stage.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts During a Hurricane

New York City, along with a majority of the East Coast was hit by a hurricane this past week. A hurricane named Sandy (who no doubt was looking for a man, probably one by the name of Danny). And this innocuously named hurricane caused some damage. In fact, quite a bit of damage.

Last year, I sat through Hurricane Irene in my apartment in Washington Heights, while making a cake and wondering, "It's awfully quiet for a hurricane."

This year was a bit rougher and for a California-raised girl like me, definitely a wake-up call in terms of how powerful Mother Nature can be. Because while we had earthquake kits in California, we were never cooped up in our houses for days with water and bread we stocked up particularly for the occasion.

Here are a selection of my thoughts during the hurricane, in no particular order.

1. Working from home is not nearly as fun as "working" from home. For one thing, you need to actually try to be productive while in your pajamas, which is a mutually exclusive state of being. And in my case, I had to try and work with a server where I had to download every document in order to view it, and upload it back up into the server if I changed it. So more time waiting for documents to download and upload, and needing that piece of paper on my work desk that I didn't think to bring home. Though working and "working" are similar in that you can sneak in a quick nap during the day and no one will ever know.

2. Believe or not, when you wear nothing but pajamas for two days straight, you feel dirty and like a slob. The dirtiness feeling confuses me because technically, I have not been outside so I have not been getting dirty. I wonder if it's a withdrawal symptoms from productivity.

3. A New York City without power looks, scarily, like the New York City in almost every disaster movie ever made.
    A photo of lower Manhattan completely darkened by Hurricane Sandy

    A still of Manhattan getting hit by a tidal wave in "The Day After Tomorrow
    4. Similarly, a New York City without a subway system looks like Los Angeles during rush hour. Except in the case of New York City, rush hour lasts all day. On Wednesday, when the subways were still down, I tried to get to work via the bus. It took my 45 minutes just to get to the street leading to the Queensboro Bridge. Normally, after 45 minutes, I would have already been at work and had coffee.
    I took this freeway home every weekend when I went to UCLA. It sucked. Balls.

    Traffic post-Sandy and pre-subway system restoration. Deja vu...

    5. Drinking during the daytime during a natural disaster is the New Yorker thing to do. During my pre-Sandy, hunkering-down-on-munchies grocery run last Sunday, beer was the hot commodity, followed closely by bread. Indeed, I was prepared for Sandy with, not just ice cream and bread, but a bottle of red wine and a bottle of Makers Mark. And when did I usually start drinking? 2 p.m. Right after lunch.

    6. Disasters bring out the most generous and beautiful part of humanity. And New Yorkers show their generosity and kindness in the most unexpected of ways. Observe the photo below.

    Courtesy of Buzzfeed
    7. Wondering how your friends were doing during and post-Sandy? Just check Facebook. Sunday came the "I bought beer, food and have Netflix, going to catch up on TV during Sandy." Monday and was "It sounds like a vacuum cleaner outside." Tuesday was "I'm okay! But pray for those who are without power." As for the people without power, well, they didn't update Facebook, which obviously meant something was wrong. Because if they were okay, they would have updated their statuses to say that they were okay, since that's what friends do for their Facebook stalkers.

    8. I feel very close to New York City now. Like in any relationship, we have been through a large, potentially deal-breaker event. And yet I am still here, still willing to keep the flame alive. I guess that means the honeymoon stage is over. And I'm officially dedicated to this relationship. Next up: 40-degree weather!

      Monday, October 22, 2012

      Racial Links and Musicals

      I'm writing this blog post from my childhood bedroom in California, where I'm staying at my parents while researching a story on Tim Dang, the artistic director of East West Players, the oldest theater of color in the U.S, for American Theatre.

      It is part of my (not-so-secret) ploy to give more visibility to the Asian-American theater artist plight. A plight that was given more flames this week when the Royal Shakespeare Company across the Atlantic pond decided to mount "The Orphan of Zhao," a classic Chinese tale with, you-guessed-it, Asians in minor rules. In fact, out of the 17 castmembers, only 3 are Asians and they are playing servants and a pet. Gregory Boyd, the artistic director of the RSC, calls the backlash against this decision "sour grapes," giving credence to the backlash, and proof that even when you are leading one of the most famous theater companies in the world, you can still be majorly insensitive to race.

      Erin Quill writes a more proper, and passionate, summation on her blog.

      This comes out in the same week where Bruce Norris, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning play Clybourne Park (about racial interactions and real estate), pulled the rights to his play from a Staatstheatre Mainz in Germany. The reason: they wanted to cast white actors in blackface to play African-American roles.

      So in totality, not the best week in the world of race relations and casting. But tomorrow I'll be reporting on a panel at East West Players about the lack of Asians and Asian-Americans onstage. EWP was kind enough to invite me to it (and even had to go through the wrong Diep Tran in order to get to me). So the fight continues and I'm here to report on it. And hopefully not criticize too much afterwards.

      But in other non-racial news, I wrote a blog post for "TCG Circle" this week about what I think is the new age of American musicals: the age of the small musicals. Or as I titled it (and I'm quite proud of this headline): Go Small or Go Home.

      A snippet here:

      Are we entering a new age of the American musical, where the imperative is not to go big, but to go small? And is folk a new musical genre? I can’t remember the last new musical I’d seen where there were chorus lines; bombastic, every-piece-in-the-orchestra-at-attention showtunes; or glory notes. Instead, it’s been character-driven stories where the actors sang their feelings, not belted them, and were accompanied by a piano and/or a guitar. Sometimes even a violin (the imperative word being a violin, not many violins).

      These are all musicals that “whisper rather than shout.”

      The example that sparked off this train of thought was from a PigPen Theatre Company, a troupe of five Carnegie Mellon graduates who have a penchant for folk tunes, shadow puppets and a dose of whimsicality. A video here to end the week (or to start the week, depending on when you are reading this post):

      Have a good rest of the week. I'll be back in NYC on Wednesday.

      Thursday, October 18, 2012

      A Conversation with My Boyfriend About Zombies

      When killing zombies, it's best to have something sharp.
      Still from Season 3, Episode 1 of "The Walking Dead" on AMC

      Below is a conversation I had with my boyfriend about "The Walking Dead" and zombie mythology,. Because when you're in a relationship, you talk about anything and everything, including shows that you know the other person will never ever watch (He's been trying to get me into "Archer" for months now). Beware, slow-walking, moaning spoilers ahead.
      Me: Tonight, I watched the Walking Dead and at the end of the episode, the main character chopped off another character's leg with a hatchet.

      BF: Did he get bitten?

      Me: Yeah, and he was the only person there with medical knowledge and really old, so it made no sense why they would bring him along on a suicide mission to take over this prison and fortify it.

      BF: So they're going with the rule of, you get bitten, you turn into a zombie?

      Me: Basically.

      BF: Why did they chop off his leg if he was going to turn into a zombie anyway?

      Me: No, in this world, everyone is a carrier for the zombie virus. A bite will just make you die faster.

      BF: How fast? Are we talking about hours or days?

      Me: Days. It's like Ebola. You die quickly and then you're reborn as a zombie. They had to chop his leg off before the virus infected the rest of his body.

      BF: But he may still die because they don't know if he's been completely infected.

      Me: Yeah.

      BF: If these zombies were trapped in a prison, how are they still alive? Can they eat each other?

      Me: No, zombies can only eat living flesh and zombie flesh is dead.

      BF: Then why can't they just wait for the zombies to starve and decompose? Why are they so afraid of these zombies?

      Me: ...It's a zombie show. If we followed the rules of nature, there would be no show. Are you going to start watching zombie movies now?

      BF: Probably not.

      And that is how you poke holes zombie mythology.

      Friday, September 14, 2012

      More Adventures in Non-Traditional Casting

      Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer in
      Andrea Arnold's new adaptation of Wuthering Heights

      You know how I'm a stickler for non-traditional casting. And sadly, I hardly ever see any examples of it that really knock my socks off. I do not count Shakespeare because if there are any avenues where actors of color get the most roles, it's Shakespeare, which is now commonly reimagined in contemporary, multi-cultural scenarios.

      And then I saw a beautiful trailer for a new adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, featuring a black Heathcliff (played by Solomon Glave and James Howson) and directed by Andrea Arnold.

      I have to admit, as someone who loves the book (and really, any girl who grew up in any American high school who had to take English lit and has a penchant for bad boys loves Wuthering Heights), my jaw dropped when I saw this new Heathcliff. I thought it was an ingenious example of non-traditional casting, meant to show just how alien Heathcliff really was and to give more realism as to why he and Catherine were kept apart. And after all, the only cinematic Heathcliff I ever saw was Ralph Fiennes in the version with Juliette Binoche so Heathcliff was always white in my mind.

      But then I did a quick skimming of the text and found this:

      "He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose" - Wuthering Heights

      Now the casting makes more sense and I would argue that it's closer to Bronte's original intent. I have to wonder why no one else has ever casted Heathcliff in this way. It would be more on the mark to have casted someone of Indian or Asian descent, because Nelly calls Heathcliff a boy whose "father was Emperor of China, and...mother an Indian queen. But it's definitely an example of casting that is out of the box and different than what has come before (all white men).

      And speaking of non-traditional, I stumbled across a recent production of "Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" at Berkeley Playhouse in California. And Vernon Bush, an African-American actor, played Willy Wonka.

      credit: Larry Abel

      And I have never imagined Willy Wonka looking like that. But that's the beauty of it, and the point. It's possible and does not require any suspension of disbelief.

      Though, on a similar vein, I do not know what to make about "Cloud Atlas."

      It's ingenious to have Halle Berry play a white woman, among other roles. Or Doona Bae, a Korean actress, play a white woman. But it skirts close to offensive to have Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess play an Asian man. We have had hurtful historic precedence of yellowface and blackface. But whiteface...not so much.

      I don't know what to think. What do you think? And are there any other examples of non-traditional casting that has made you go "Oh! I have not thought of that role in that way before, but it makes so much sense now!"

      Monday, September 10, 2012

      Into the Park (Act II)

      My new niece. Doesn't she make you want to pull a Witch and steal a baby?

      And we're back...a month later. I have a good explanation for the long absence, I swear. It's called the October 152-page issue of "American Theatre" and a managing editor on maternity leave. And it was also called my sister Thao, who had a baby on August 15, which was the same day as my dad's birthday (who turned 69 this year). "Happy birthday daddy, I got you another granddaughter!"

      And speaking of my daddy, my parents also visited for a week and a half to see their new granddaughter. This is grandkid #5 for them and apparently, it doesn't get old.

      As for me, I was at the magazine's beck-and-call while at work and my mom's beck-and-call after work. And as for the boyfriend...he's been putting up with the family crazy and baby photos admirably (though he did say "I want 8 of those" when I showed him the above photo of my niece, I hope that's not a hint).

      But I am determined to write about (the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park) "Into the Woods" dammit, because it's Sondheim and a large cast (practically unheard of these days) and now that my life is literally filled with children, it's even more appropriate, because children will listen. Which is why I tell my boyfriend not to swear so much in public but unlike my nephews and nieces, he doesn't listen to me.

      But now that it's too late for a "is this show worth seeing or not?" type of review, I want to talk more about the show's concept, which is the thing I found most interesting and what I thought I remember most vividly since I saw the musical last month.

      Spoilers abound in this analysis so proceed in with caution. Mind the path.

      Thursday, August 9, 2012

      Into the Park (Act 1)

      Amy Adams and Josh Lamon go Into the Woods.


      Last Thursday, August 2nd, I stood in line for the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park the whole time. But this year was not just Shakespeare, it was also Sondheim. And this was Into the Woods, in Central Park, at the rustic, outdoor Delacorte Theater. And if there was anyone I would line up for, it would be the God of musical theater (no offense to the Bard but I can readily see free Shakespeare productions all over the city).

      I waited in line for 7 hours beginning at 6 a.m., got two tickets, took a nap and then went back that night refreshed and dressed up for the show (including a free dinner and dessert from the boyfriend because he owed me for waiting in line for 7 hours).

      Below is an hour-by-hour play of the waiting in line part.

      Tuesday, July 31, 2012

      Flashing the Bride

      It seems any great event in life these days is an excuse for a Youtube moment. These days, it's no longer just home videos (like those VHS tapes that my parents still have of our first trip to Disneyland and to Vietnam, that none of us have watched in years). Instead, it's digital videos that you can upload online, so the personal becomes communal.

      It's like a fatter cousin of the village mentality - you grew up in a village or small town, USA where everyone knows each other and every personal event automatically becomes a communal event. When I visited the village where my dad grew up, my aunt invited the neighbors and their children in for dinner.

      These days, those events are not personally shared via face-to-face interaction. Instead, it's digital and the community is in the hundreds to the thousands (depending on how many FB friends or Youtube subscribers you have or hits you get on the video). And if you're lucky, you might even get to do it on the Today Show.

      The "New York Times" published an article on Friday about flash mob proposals, citing the numerous benefits of such a large-scale proposal, the most amusing being:

      Men have done astounding things across history to win a bride, and a mother for their young — in battle and in romance. This is just another very imaginative approach. And she won’t forget it. When they hit some bumps down the road, she will be able to recall this moment and perhaps forgive his other foibles.

      I had no idea that a large-scale proposal was also a get-out-of-jail-free card for any future arguments. "I'm sorry for not mowing the lawn/coming home drunk/cheating on you, but remember when I proposed to you via flash mob?"

      Then again, I guess the answer of "yes" isn't enough, especially when you're probably spending upwards of $2,000 to organize an event around a question (that hopefully you know the answer to), especially one that can turn you into a Youtube sensation.

      But, like the gargantuan diamond ring or the multi-thousand-dollar wedding dress or the 200-guest-list wedding, I guess it's just another facet in an industry that already prizes ostentation uber alles. Not to say that "Bridezillas" and "Say Yes to the Dress" aren't entertaining, because they are.

      And so are flash-mob proposals. Especially this one:

      But sometimes I wonder, isn't the almost an unequal foundation for the rest of your life? After all, he is the one who is organizing the big question event, and all the girl needs to do is say yes. Then during the wedding, all eyes are on the bride and her wedding dress and her engagement ring. The groom, as always, decoration and subservient to the bride.

      The big, over-the-top proposal is almost a modern day equivalent to bringing over cows and chickens to convince the bride (and her father) that she should marry you. What is the bride worth to you? Is she worth a flash mob? Public artwork?

      Though my question is: What happens if she says no? That is, literally, a world of humiliation.

      Monday, July 30, 2012

      The Latests on NightinGate

      Because this blog is also not just for the reference of the denizens of the Internet, but for my references as well (in case I want to go back to it later), I wanted to put in an update on what has gone down on, what I will call, NightinGate.

      And in that time, La Jolla Playhouse had a passionate panel discussion (complete with an apology from Moises Kaufman), and bloggers have responded. The response, in my opinion, which stuck out the best was from writer Han Ong, who posted on Facebook about how a white face is supposed to be a proxy for universality, whereas a yellow face...

      Let’s say you’re a colored person. You are inclined to go to the movies or to the theater. When the lights go down, your whole world shrinks to the few square feet in front of you, your attention on high alert. You’re looking to be entertained, moved; or as an aspiring creator yourself, you are looking to take instruction from the movie or play before you. The use of the word “instruction” is no accident. Spectatorship at movies and plays is really like going to school or like going to church. All your senses massed for engagement, absorption.

      You go to movies and plays, too, because you’re on the market for a heroic proxy. Somebody up on screen or the stage who allows you to engage in the necessary fantasy of a grander life. Or a more witty life. Or a more poetic life. Before you return to your own life, which, like most lives, is just ... life-sized.

      Colored people going to movies and plays and on the market for heroic proxies (and who doesn’t that cover?) have long learned to transfer their hopes and identifications to the white heroes presented before them. Because given the paucity of colored faces in movies and plays in general (much less colored faces in heroic roles), who else are you going to transfer those hopes and identifications to?

      This business of heroic transference is like child’s play used to fulfill a very adult need: to be grander; always, more amplitude. Not shrunken, not limited -- please, not that.

      So for two hours, you say: I am Tom Cruise. I am Bruce Willis. I am Sandra Bullock. I am Hamlet. I am the Duchess of Malfi. I am Algernon -- or wait, am I more Lady Bracknell?

      White is the universal solvent.

      Into a white face goes so many hopes and identifications. In white is black, brown, yellow, red.

      You have learned that without knowing that you were learning that.

      Decades, a lifetime of movie-going and play-going.

      In white is the whole world itself: venal and kind, calculating and compassionate, galvanic and moribund, word-drunk and tongue-tied; in white is ingenue, lover, fighter, villain, protector, monarch.

      The reverse has rarely been true.

      An Asian man walks on stage and suddenly the machinery of heroic transference is stopped.

      Yellow in America, it turns out, is no solvent of any kind.

      I saw a play at Second Stage last week, in an ironic turn, "Warrior Class," by Kenneth Lin (which I had planned before NightinGate flew up). It is about a Chinese-American assemblyman trying to run for Congress, while sorting out the inevitable skeletons in his closet. And there's a line in it where Nathan, who is vetting Julius Lee, says:

      You got that Virginia Tech guy, you just had that guy in Oakland shooting everyone up. There was a doctor up at Yale. We had that guy up in Binghamton, shooting other immigrants. We had that guy in Minnesota shooting hunters in the forest... All these guys are wearing your face.

      It's an unfortunate reality that when you see an Asian face on the stage and in life, you see a colored face, a foreign face, or as Han Ong says, "Yellow in no solvent of any kind."

      Steven Sater says that he wanted to make "Nightingale" a universal story, not "a story about Asian," and the only way to do so was with multiracial/colorblind casting, as if plays with an all-Asian cast are not universal. If that's the case, then "God of Carnage" or "August: Osage County" is really about white suburbanites bitching at each other.

      I guess to close for now, let's see what happens in casting from this point on, and how "Nightingale" will live past La Jolla. But let me quote Uncle Ben in Spider-Man, in regards to casting: "With great power comes great responsibility." It's up to playwrights, directors and casting agents, those are the gatekeepers. The rest of us can only bitch. Loudly.

      As for me, I'm hoping to not talk about race for a while (my boyfriend likes to point out Asian people on stage to me now). Hopefully, the next step will be less talking and more doing.

      Thursday, July 12, 2012

      The (Yellow-ish) Nightingale

      An illustration from "The Nightingale" by Hans Christian Anderson, image by Edmund Dulac

      To preface this: my colleague Rob Weinert-Kendt, associate editor of "American Theatre," musician and theater junkie, told me I should write about this, spawning from a debate we had in the office. So here it is, even though I have written on this topic, or something close to it, multiple times before. And also, Rob brought this up on "American Theatre"'s Facebook page. The responses are worth a read.

      Today kids, we are going to play a game of "perfect artistic world" (PAW) vs. "real artistic world" (RAW). For example, in a PAW world, anybody who wanted to make art could make it, however they wanted to and make a living off of it. In that world, I would have become a painter and spend my days being a less-impressive version of Georgia O'Keeffe.

      In the RAW world, I realized that I did not have enough gumption to lead the life of a starving, thankless artist. So I now work for a non-profit. Which is not that much of a step up but it does have health insurance.

      In PAW, I would go to the theater (or watch movies or TV) and see main characters that looked like me. Instead, in RAW, the lead characters are usually white (unless you're in a Tyler Perry movie or in a David Henry Hwang play).

      And in a PAW, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik can write a musical fairytale set in ancient China, and cast a white male as the Chinese emperor, another white male as the young Chinese emperor, a black female as the Chinese queen, and two Asian-American actresses. And no one would mind, because it's an artistic choice and reflects nothing on the state of American theater, which has equal representation of all races on its stage.

      But we live in RAW, where that is not true. And out of 11 "Nightingale" cast members, only 2 are Asian or Asian-American. Neither are Chinese though. Steven (who I spoke to for "American Theatre" and who is a very kind and generous with his time) has responded to the hubbub with, because the story is set in “mythic China. We’re not trying to do something that’s completely authentic to its time, because it’s a fairy tale.” 

      "The Nightingale" is being presented at La Jolla Playhouse and my new Twitter friend Erin Quill writes a very hilarious, and astute, blog post about it in the aptly titled "Moises Kaufman can kiss my ass," from the POV of an actress.

      I'm going to look at this whole thing from the POV of an audience member, and journalist.

      Tuesday, July 10, 2012

      A Vindication on the Rights of Women, to be Badasses

      Last week, I caught a Friday night showing of "Brave," the newest Pixar film, which takes the typical mother-daughter tale of alienation and misunderstanding, and ricochets the drama up, by having Princess Merida accidentally turn her mother, Queen Elinor into a bear.

      (Just a quick aside, I am obsessed with Merida's head of fiery and wild red hair. So much so that I want to chop it off and put it on my own head, even if it's going to matte down and be completely disgusting in the freakishly-hot NYC summer.)

      Before "Brave" was released, Adam Markovitz of Entertainment Weekly surmised that, because of her lack of romantic/traditionally feminine inclinations (aka, she likes to ride horses and shooting arrows), Merida could possibly be a lesbian. Ignoring the arcane notion in the article which posits that just because a woman chooses not to be "like a man", she could be a lesbian, Markovitz does make one point that I find interesting:

      [Merida] brings a new free-thinking attitude to the slightly staid club of Disney princesses, one that’s sure to appeal not just to gays, but to anyone who ever challenged an identity that was pre-assigned to them. Her strength in the face of opposition and her urge to forge her own identity...both have the potential to ring true for moviegoers of all stripes, rainbow or otherwise.

      After watching "Brave," I was walking home and it occurred to me that Merida probably does get married eventually. After all, the film operates in a world where a woman's source of power was her ability to bear children (hence why Elinor didn't settle for one ginger child but instead, had three ginger boys too). But what Merida was trying to get Elinor to understand, becoming the source of conflict in the "Brave," was that she wanted the ability to choose when and who she married. I like to think that eventually, Merida found someone she loved, who was her equal, and who let her take long horse rides in the woods. But the operative notion is that she was allowed to choose.

      Tuesday, July 3, 2012

      And Now, A Little Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion

      Not to toot my own horn, but I have two articles in the latest version of American Theatre, and one un-bylined interview with Alan Cumming (the official answer is because I was not interviewing him as myself, but rather, as American Theatre).

      But you should read them, either in print, online, or in our new digital (via Zinio) form. So many options, however will you choose? I had a mixture of fun and frustration writing these articles, though the research for them (which included flying to Louisville, KY and Costa Mesa, CA) was so memorable and, in the case of talking to Alan Cumming, a perverted hoot.

      One is a summation of the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville and the Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa. I saw 15 plays in the course of two weekends, which meant that when I got back to NYC, I was pretty theatered-out.

      The other article is about theater trailers, for those who are interested in creating one, how to go about doing it. Fun times...

      Thursday, June 28, 2012

      A Sensitive Take on the TCG National Conference

      The hubbub at the 2011 TCG National Conferience in Los Angeles
      Feeling 1: Tired

      It was 11:30 at night and I had been up since 7 that morning. I wanted to go home. Or rather, I wanted to go back to my hotel room and watch TV. The music was loud, the lighting was dark, the booze was flowing for up to five glasses, and a couple of minutes prior, I had seen a man sporting a six-pack, walk down a catwalk while wearing only a pair of gold lame shorts. On a normal day, that would have given me my second wind.

      But then again, this was not a normal day. I had been up since 7 that morning and, save for the new Mike Daisey show (The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure)), I had been working all day. I wanted to go back to my hotel room (at the Boston Park Plaza), and watch TV.

      Feeling 2: Surprised (Kinda)

      Wednesday, June 27, 2012

      A Few Words From Nora Ephron About New York

      Nora Ephron on the set of "Julie & Julia". Credit: Jonathan Wenk/Columbia Pictures

      If I could blame anyone for convincing me that New York City was a place to live in, where you could actually build a life there, instead of just one big party, it would be the newly late Nora Ephron, and "You've Got Mail."

      Even now, the Upper West Side is still my real estate goal in New York, even when student loan payments and accepting realization that I'll never ever be, rich. If I get lucky, I'll probably just graze middle-class. But that doesn't matter when you live in the New York of a Nora Ephron film, where you can stroll through a farmer's market with a man you used to hate but now kind of love, where the lights of the Empire State Building are a sign of true love, and where you can fake an orgasm at Katz's Delicatessen and everyone who was staring at you will want what you're having.

      Friday, June 15, 2012

      How I (Inadvertantly) Cut Beef Out of My Diet

      It helps to be poor sometimes. Not poor in the Christ (or Buddha) sense of the term: collecting alms, food stamps, no booze. More like being poor in the young 20-something, artist/writer/early professional sense. Which is less Carrie Bradshaw and more like Jane Eyre, frugal and a little bit plain.

      So one repercussion of being poor is I'm less able to afford to eat a lot of meat. Because meat is expensive. In comparison to vegetables, tofu and lentils, a pound of roast will cost you more than ingredients for a salad. And it won't last for as many meals. These days, I make a lot of soups, chilis and curries. Mainly because they last longer and I could stretch the $20 it took to buy myself those ingredients further. Meat is never the main course. Instead, it goes right in the pot with everything else.

      I guess it's just a natural byproduct of growing up with a predominantly Asian diet, where it was always meat mixed with vegetables and served with a vegetable soup and rice, rather than the very American diet of a slice of steak or roasted chicken with potatoes on the side. At my mother's dinner table, every component (meat, vegetables, rice, and fruit for dessert) was perfectly balanced. Even pho, that most famous of Vietnamese dishes, is mostly noodles and vegetables. The only meat component are the slices of beef and the broth.

      So when I started cooking for myself, the taste of instant ramen from a cup soon lost its novelty. When you grow up eating fresh ingredients that were never boxed and stored for weeks, and you continue to make that the staple in your diet, it becomes more and more difficult to eat anything from a box. It gets worst as you get older and your taste buds become more discerning. It's not the overwhelming taste of cardboard boxiness. It's more like every mouthful is filled with preservatives and it's an unpleasant assault on your taste buds because it's artificial and it's not supposed to be in there. It's like having a foreign object in your body which does not belong, your body will automatically reject it.

      Friday, June 8, 2012

      Just Call Me Already!

      You know a song is going to be around for a long, annoying time when it engenders, not Youtube covers, but Youtube spoofs. Here are two that was released today, based on Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe," which I first heard at H&M last Friday and have been stuck in my head, which means that it's going to be there all summer...

      Jepson is Canadian and, contrary to appearances, is actually older than Taylor Swift. And me. I feel like there should be another blog post about infantilization of women but it's Friday and I'm just passing time until I can drink tonight.

      So first, here is the original "Call Me Maybe":

      Then, first cover, courtesy of Jimmy Fallon (I originally wrote Kimmel, not sure why I keep getting those mixed up) and the Roots (and Ms Jepson, though that's not the reason you should be watching the video. Hint: there's a kazoo.):

      And finally, from the journalists at NPR in what can only be describe as a dramatic reading.

      They should take on 50 Shades of Grey next.

      And next week, I'll get back to blogging about something substantial.

      Happy Friday everyone.

      Tuesday, June 5, 2012

      The Lusty Month of May

      Got you in the headline didn't I, you perverts (or "Camelot" lovers)? My month of May wasn't lusty as the song suggests so much as frenetic, in a Speedy Gonzalez kind of way rather than a jackrabbit way (see what I did there?). Going into May, I knew it was going to be busy. And I right, which is why I haven't blogged in a month.

      Two lengthy articles for "American Theatre" plus finding a new apartment and moving into it will do that to you. I couldn't even go to the gym which meant moving day into my new fourth-floor walk-up apartment was torturous. You know you're out of shape when three flights of stairs up has you breathless. I blame it on the 82 degree weather on moving day. And having too many boxes of clothes.

      And I turned 24 last month, which still makes me practically an infant whenever I go to the theater. Which didn't really happen in May, aside from three shows (Will Eno's Title and Deed, my first ever Harold Pinter play, which was playing at BAM and the second original musical I saw this season that didn't make me want to curl up into a ball and bemoan the state of the American musical).

      So, in short (or long-ish), that was the month of May. And lookatthat, here comes summer! What am I the most excited for? Aside from summer Fridays at the beach, I am really looking forward to Shakespeare and Sondheim in the Park. Along with "As You Like It," the Public Theater is mounting Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" in Central Park and I will probably be camping out/paying an intern to get a ticket.

      I couldn't get a ticket to last year's offerings so I'm crossing my finger. In the meantime, I'll just admire Manhattan from my new apartment.

      Friday, April 20, 2012

      I'm Ready for My Close-Up

      I'm currently researching for an article on theater trailers for "American Theater." And somehow, in my research, it's turned into an exercise in how to properly film theater. I won't tell you what my findings are until the article runs in the magazine (at some point). But I will say this: close-ups are key. Some plays lend itself better to being filmed than others. For a momentous piece (say "Sunday in the Park with George"), rendering the scale of the set is slightly problematic because the size of the stage and set is minimized on the television screen, everything looks smaller.

      But for smaller plays, it seems that a good close-up can make the play more effective. Case in point, a play by the Civilians (a New York-based documentary theater company) called "You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce."

      It's four actors, recounting the stories of how their parents met, fell in love, divorced and what they fought over. The actors play their parents (very convincingly). Seeing the work in the Flea Theatre's small black-box space in Soho, the nuances and humor didn't quite hit me as I was sitting towards the back. But seeing the filmed footage of the play, from the comfort of my couch...that was something different. And for me, the piece was funnier and more biting, and it seemed they were speaking to me. 

      Or it may be because when I saw the play, it was towards the end of a long workday and humor doesn't always hit you when you're tired. But take a look for yourself.

      Tuesday, April 17, 2012

      White Girls

      Wow, that's a totally non-PC headline. But that was my first reaction on seeing the "New York" magazine article about HBO's newest show "Girls," written by the very talented Emily Nussbaum. I thought, "The show should be called 'White Girls.'" Because that's the demographic that it seems to be catering to.

      In case you don't have HBO, or have not been reading the arts section lately, "Girls" is about four 20something, white women living in New York City. It's like a grittier, more awkward "Sex and the City," set in Brooklyn. The pilot is available on Youtube, having only premiered this past Sunday. I somehow feel like it's been around forever, considering all that's been written about it. Including this blog post (hah!).

      Friday, April 13, 2012

      The Fantastical Past

      Thomas Kinkade's "Cobblestone Bridge"
      Thomas Kinkade died last week at the ripe young age of 54. His family claimed it was natural causes, though I'm not going to go into speculation on what kind of natural causes would kill a middle-aged man with no history of diseases. That's the coroner's job. I never thought much of Mr. Kinkade or his art, mainly because I associated the Kinkade brand with those pretentiously-lit galleries at the mall, sugary sweet paintings that seemed to lifted from a preteen girl's sentimental brain, and how he stole the phrase "painter of light" from the Impressionists. That last one was the product of an art history degree, but the other two were just a sign that my tastes in paintings did not run the sweet gamet. In short, like many in the professional art world, I found his paintings kitschy and designed to appeal to the masses.

      Monet's "Boulevards des Capucines"
      But then, looking at those images again, I thought, 'What is it about them?' What did he do that Monet, Renoir, Degas didn't do better and more vividly. Why are people paying more than $800 for a Kinkade that is mass produced, sometimes retouched, and often times not even painted by the man? Wouldn't it just be cheaper to buy a framed and matted print of a rain-drenched Paris? At least then you know that you're looking at a real place that exists.

      Wednesday, April 4, 2012


      I was at the 2012 Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, KY this past weekend. Aside from fighting a cold and thus having to control my alcohol intake (which meant a lot less bourbon than I had planned to have), I saw 8 plays and sat on a panel called "Critiquing Criticism: (re)imagining the future." Though I was lucky enough to be sitting beside Polly Carl, moderator and HowlRound editor, Bill Hirschman of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Gordon Cox of Variety, I also felt a tad uneasy. If only because I had only been doing this professionally (eg: getting paid to write) for less than a year, and this was my first Humana outing. And I'm still working on the art of holding back pithy remarks...

      "But that is why I asked you!" said Kirsty Gaukel, who works at the press office at Actors Theatre of Louisville, who hosted the festival. Apparently at this stage of my career, being young is an asset (especially in a field that is dominated by writers and head honcho artists in their 40's and 50's). It must have been my Twitter account...

      In short, it was a conversation that I had an endless amount of time at Syracuse. And surprisingly, almost everyone enjoyed my comments. Maybe it is easy being green... Here's the video below (with me in the preview image). And look for my Humana retrospective in the July/August issue of American Theatre.

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      Tuesday, March 27, 2012

      The Racist Games

      This cute print can be found here. Credit: Slovly.

      Now that wearing a hoodie is synonymous with being a gangster and a thug, and is a good excuse for shooting someone (it's the new miniskirt!), it seems that racism is back. Then again, did it ever really go away? I'd like to argue that from November 2008 to January 2009, Americans pretended that racism was a thing of the past, like three-pieced suits and drinking at work. And then someone had to go and shoot Trayvon Martin. Or perhaps it was before that when Pvt. Danny Chen was bullied by his fellow soldiers. Or perhaps it was the summer when people realized that The Help, while popular, was a really racist movie.

      But here it is some more, with teenagers complaining that one of the main characters in The Hunger Games film is black. Not the violence, the trivialization of the death of children, the way the story is derivative of every other dystopian, science-fiction story about kids killing each other (Ender's Game, Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies). Instead, it's something as asinine as skin color. Then again, I don't expect teenagers to have the best reasoning skills. Adults don't have it either these days.

      It did lead to this very interested Jezebel article about the proliferation of white-washing characters when race is not specified. It's something I addressed in my TCG Circle blog post. But Jezebel addresses more directly (and in more colorful language) than I do. A choice snippet here:

      You can see whitewashing in a grillion places—from old chestnuts like black characters always dying first (get out of the way! White people have stuff to do!), to more recent developments like 2011's HawthoRNe being only the third primetime drama ever to feature a black female lead. Third one ever. In 2011. There's the fact that if you have more than two black characters in a television show it becomes a "black show." There was Avatar: The Last Airbender (which I reviewed here), in which M. Night Shyamalan cast white actors in explicitly Asian roles—but only the heroes. The villains were dark-skinned south Asians. Remember the sassy black friend in 2011 rom-com Friends with Benefits? Probably not, because she only exists for like two seconds at the very beginning of the movie to establish that our heroine has an ethnic friend, and then disappears forever. Because that's enough! Tip o' the hat to you, black people! You're welcome! Now quiet down—the white people are talking.

      It reminds me of when George Lucas was on "The Daily Show" and he said he had trouble finding financers for Red Tails because: "It's because it's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all...I showed it to all of them and they said no. We don't know how to market a movie like this."

      To quote someone very wise: "That's some racist bullshit!" And really depressing.

      Monday, March 26, 2012

      How to Run a Theater Marathon

      Gatz, credit: Joan Marcus
      I think the first time I did a straight marathon run of anything was Lord of the Rings, the extended edition, which added up to around 12 hours of orc slicing, Legolas hair flipping and Frodo's freaky blue eyes. Of course, that was over a period of two days and I took frequent food breaks (mostly during the battle scenes, which got a bit tedious after a while) and most of the time was in my pajamas. My dad came in and out, exclaiming, "How long is this thing?" and my sister dropped out around Rivendell (weak). But not me, I was a "Ringer" and I was going to do this! For Middle Earth! For Frodo! For my future kids to prove that I was cool back in the day!

      These days, I am significantly less cool and less prone to movie marathons. Instead, I have graduated to something even classier: theater marathons.

      Monday, March 19, 2012

      Writing Quote of the Day

      In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it. - Gabriel García Márquez for the Paris Review

      That's fortuitous. Though I can't quite agree with him on the function of a tape recorder (which I find is better for accuracy and long conversations), but to each their own. Now the next question is, what function does truth have in creative nonfiction?

      Sunday, March 18, 2012

      Pushing Daisey

       An interesting thing happened on Friday. Of course, to my managing editor and editor-in-chief, it was a face-palm-worthy thing. For me, it was interesting, because it called to question the nature of full disclosure statements.

      Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which I blogged about as an example of provocative, on-the-ball, anxiety-inducing work, turned out to be partially fabricated. Consequently, "This American Life," which had aired a portion of the monologue and posited it as truth, aired a retraction episode to clear up the, what we journalists call, "factual errors."

      Understandably, the Internet blew up, especially the theater people on Twitter.

      Terry Teachout of Washington Post called it "unforgiveable." Issac Butler told everyone via Twitter to chill out until TAL aired the retraction episode.

      And even Roger Ebert called that Mr. Daisey is a "fraudster." That made me sad because it simplifies the issue.

      Sunday, March 4, 2012

      Danse Russe

      William Carlos Williams died today. I learned that from Roger Ebert's blog (because if I am horrible at remembering birthdays and deathdays of my family and friends, I am worst at remembering those of famous people). He writes about the red wheelbarrow, that poem which looks like, and arranged like a wheelbarrow.

      I wanted to honor the day by thinking about one of my favorite poems in the world. Which is Williams's Danse Russe
      If I when my wife is sleeping
      and the baby and Kathleen
      are sleeping
      and the sun is a flame-white disc
      in silken mists
      above shining trees,—
      if I in my north room
      dance naked, grotesquely
      before my mirror
      waving my shirt round my head
      and singing softly to myself:
      "I am lonely, lonely.
      I was born to be lonely,
      I am best so!"
      If I admire my arms, my face,
      my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
      against the yellow drawn shades,—

      Who shall say I am not
      the happy genius of my household?

      Thank you Dr. Williams (who was a wonderful physician and a poet, a man of two stereotypically opposing disciplines but did both remarkably) for showing my younger, more impressionable, college self that it was perfectly okay to be alone. And to feel no shame when you just want to dance like a "grotesque" fool when you're alone. That's inspired a lot of twirling when I'm by myself in my apartment.

      Friday, March 2, 2012

      It's a Man's World

      Make it mandatory that health insurance cover Viagra and vasectomies and no politician makes a sound (and the Vatican is content, though what would those old popes be needing erections for?).

      Make it mandatory to cover birth control for women and suddenly it's an assault against religion and an occasion to remind women to keep their legs closed and that taxpayers should not be paying for "slutty behavior." For people who believe in abstinence, Republicans sure are obsessed with sex. Forced celibacy will make a person do crazy, irrational, passionate things.

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      The Hijacked Lorax

      I have nothing to say, except shame on the Dr. Seuss estate! Shame!

      The Minority Report (Asian Edition)

      "I can't understand you, are you speaking Chinglish?"

      It was only a matter of time before I addressed this. I actually wanted to avoid this topic because I hate bringing my racial background into a conversation where it doesn't belong. But I figured it was time...

      Thursday, March 1, 2012

      On the Ball

      But the March issue of American Theatre is out today, with a very prescient story about gay marriage as a theme. Considering that gay marriage is now a reality in Washington, New York, Maryland, really close in California and (if it wasn't for Chris Christie) New Jersey. See everyone? The American theater is not always behind the trend! Sometimes, we're actually running alongside it.

      credit: Sara Krulwich, NYTimes
      And in other news, I finally stopped being lazy and saw The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Public Theater down in the East Village on Tuesday. It was one of those moments where you knew what you were getting into (which was the reason why I had put it off for so long, I knew it was going to be good but a downer of a night. I was partially right). In this case, I knew I was going to be treated to an evening of a firsthand account of Mike Daisey's, the monologist, trip to China and to Foxconn, the factory that makes half of the world's electronics, including Apple's. And how that factory treats its workers, how it puts them through 12-16 hour shifts (one man died after working a 36-hour shift while Mr. Daisey was there) and how it throws them away like defective machines when their hands become too misshapen and carpal-tunnel-ridden from doing the same repetitive motion (assembling iPhone, iMacs, iPad, etc parts) for years.

      I knew all that. But there's something about a story that's being told just right, in a relateable, sometimes funny, and oftentimes harrowing language that brings the point home. Especially when that story is told in the form of a retrospective, based on first-hand accounts.

      You can download the monologue at Mike Daisey's website and read it and perform it at your leisure. And you can read the expose on Foxconn from the New York Times that was researched and published at the same time as when Mr. Daisey was performing in one-man-show.

      Coincidence? Or theater doing its job? After all, isn't that the point of art, to hold up a clear (not rosy-colored) mirror to society? The argument for the importance of art is convincing when there are pieces like Agony and the plays mentioned in the gay marriage article being made.

      And I also want to give a shout-out to that thing that I love more than theater: journalism. Real, investigative journalism. Not soundbites taken straight from a press release that passes for journalism on TV (no offense to broadcast reporters but really, someone please call Rick Santorum out on his three degrees in light of his claim that colleges are for "snobs"). From the Times expose on Foxconn, which attracted more than 1,000 comments, and petitions, letters and demonstrations, people are finally thinking actively about green technology. Finally, being a TRUTH avenger is a good thing again.

      Tuesday, February 7, 2012

      Shit Asian Moms Say

      In which a meme is tirelessly played on...and on...and on...

      But this variation is near and dear to any skinny Asian girl who has ever come home from college or living far away and her mom will say, "You got fat."

      And then she will proceed to keep telling said "fat" Asian girl to "eat more" at dinner.

      In case you are wondering, yes, "You got fat" was one of the first things my mom said to me when I came home from 6 months in Europe and recently, a year and a half of living on the East Coast. But as with the case with a majority of Asian moms, harsh-sounding words is just her way of showing affection.

      Monday, February 6, 2012

      I Heard It Through the Class Vine

      It seems that every time I tune into any Republican nominee candidate speaking (something I try to avoid for my own personal sanity), the common buzzwords include "warfare," "welfare" and "Obama," the most common permutation being, "Obama is trying to wage class warfare." What with talks of the 99% and protestors being indiscriminately pepper sprayed (and Mitt Romney not caring about the "very rich" or the "very poor"), it's fitting that right now, one of the more emerging topics discussed on the theatrical stage is the issues of class.

      In two weeks, I saw two plays on two different coastlines, which represented two different types of American theater: the commercial Broadway theater and the non-profit, regional theater. The first was Stick Fly by Lydia R. Diamond (who was profiled in the December issue of American Theatre, on Broadway at the Cort Theater, about an African-American family during a weekend at Martha's Vineyard.

      The second was Elemeno Pea by Molly Smith Metzler, at South Coast Repertory, who is also a co-worker of mine at Theatre Communications Group. That one was about two White sisters and one sister's wealthy employer on Martha's Vineyard. (Aside: I was on vacation in California when I saw this and ate so much, but not enough, Vietnamese food throughout. Lunar New Year is like Christmas for Asian people, gastronomically.)

      In these two scenarios, we won't discuss the race issue (which will be the topic for another blog post). What these two plays have in common are the class discussions, in the seemingly insular world of Martha's Vineyard.

      Tuesday, January 3, 2012

      Renting Fate for a Year

      "Untitled (Slide)" by Carsten Holler, at the New Museum until January 22. Because life is a long, winding slide where if you try to stop, you'll get injured.

      In the musical Rent, the tagline is "No day but today." And while I have never been fond of Rent (because of its sentimentality and its less-than-inspired lyrics), I reacted to that message, not from the urge to have a Bohemian lifestyle but rather, because it emphasized valuing the moment you were living in and the people you were sharing it with. 2011 was the year I learned to live in the moment.