Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Steaming “Hot Asian Doctor Husband”

If you’re a rom com fan, this is the show for you

Photo courtesy of Theater Mu

I’ve waxed ad nauseam about my love for new theater work, and one of my favorite companies consistently celebrating and commissioning new plays is Theater Mu. Their new play, Hot Asian Doctor Husband, is another exciting addition to the catalog and one I think will be traveling around the country for some time.

It goes like this: Emi and Collin seem made for each other – except they’re not. At least in her mind. Emi is mixed race, and the more serious things get with Collin, the more she questions if they have a viable future. She is especially worried about having kids who might not identify with her Japanese heritage. To further complicate things, Emi’s mother, who raised her a single parent and was her last direct link to her ethnic history, recently died in a tragic accident. Emi decides to take a leap of faith and find a “hot Asian doctor husband” to fulfill her fantasy of an idyllic Asian American household, breaking up with Collin and stunning her friends.

The trouble is, of course, that love doesn’t work on preferred timelines and specific fantasies. Emi and especially Collin still have feelings for each other, which is plainly evident when they continue to run into each other after the breakup. Emi does find a hot Asian doctor and it seems like things will work out; the only trouble is that he is already someone else’s husband, which Emi learns in a devastating emotional blow that finally pushes her to confront her unprocessed depression and sadness about her mother’s death. The play goes a little off the rails after the affair with the doctor ends, taking a turn from nippy comedy into a serious exploration of mental health issues; it felt a little bit like two different plays in one, but it leaves the audience with a rich understanding of Emi’s identity crisis by the time we leave.

The cast includes Theater Mu regulars and several newcomers, and they’re a really fun crew. Meghan Kreidler deftly handles the role of Emi. No matter how serious or radical her character’s actions seem, Kreidler keeps them believable and touching. Damian Leverett is a joy as the shunned, mournfully #woke Collin; by leaning into the stereotype, he finds some kernels of truth about the white male experience that are new on the stage. Mikell Sapp is delightful as Emi’s best friend Leonard. I haven’t seen him on stage before and I sure hope this isn’t the last time. Danielle Troiano is equally lovely as Leonard’s girlfriend Veronica, bringing vulnerability and poise to the role. Eric Sharp is thoroughly, gut-splittingly hilarious as the Hot Asian Doctor Husband. His scenes were among my favorite in the show and I wish we got a little more of him. And eternal favorite Sun Mee Chomet is fabulous as the Mother characters, milking the most of her time on stage and making a great mentor to Maekalah Ratsabout, the young actress playing the child version of Emi.

The clever scenic design by Sarah Brandner is millennial approved and has all sorts of Ikea-style innovations that keep the action swiftly moving and the aesthetic clean. Costumes, by Jeni O’Malley, are equally well matched to the tone. Karin Olson’s lighting design and Katharine Horowitz’s sound design are subtle and warm, enhancing the action on stage (especially Horowitz’s original music, composed with Damian Leverett). And it’s good to see the importance of physical movement in comedy embraced by Magnolia Yang Sao Yia’s clever choreography and Lauren Keating’s intimacy consulting, a field I suspect we’ll see much more of on programs around #tctheater in this season and beyond.

Hot Asian Doctor Husband is one of the shows I was most excited for this year, and it doesn’t disappoint. Like any new play, there is some revision I’d do on a future iteration to help clarify the story – is it about Emi and Collin’s relationship, or her relationship with her mother? – but the content here is engaging and has a lot of potential. It’s a golden time for Asian Americans* in the rom com world, and Theater Mu’s consistently approachable and inspiring new work is a vital addition to the genre. Make sure to head to Mixed Blood Theatre to check it out before it closes on September 1; click here for more information or to buy tickets.

*If you want more shows like this one on the silver screen, you’re in luck! Here are a few in the last year that I have really loved: 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Floyd's Is A Poignant Delight

It's starting to feel like Lynn Nottage is the only name I've heard in theater the last few years. I'm ok with that. 

Photo by T Charles Erickson

The famous don't always live up to their reputation, but Lynn Nottage sure does.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

The Guthrie made no secret of the fact that Nottage was debuting a world premiere new composition this season as a companion piece to her history-making play Sweat, which won the 2017 Pulitzer and made her the first woman (and first African American woman) in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama a second time. While I haven't seen Sweat myself (just heard innumerable glowing recommendations from everyone else who has), I have to say that if it's anything like Floyd's, the hype is very real.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

Floyd's takes place in the back kitchen of a sandwich restaurant of the same name, where all of the employees are formerly incarcerated people. They all struggle to find careers and stable lives after leaving prison, and Floyd's is the first place willing to hire them and pay them a decent wage to hep them get on their feet. The only problem? Floyd, the owner, is a truly negative person. She abuses the employees physically and verbally, flies off the handle at any given time, and takes full advantage of the fact that she knows - and they know - that as much as they don't like her, there is nowhere else they can go to get back on their feet. Little by little, we learn the backstory of each employee and how it infuses their time at Floyd's and dreams for the future. The slow reveal of their lives is one of the most poignant elements of Floyd's so I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say, it's a long overdue humanization of a very American problem that is beautifully written and acted.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

This tight-knit cast is filled with Guthrie debuts, like Floyd's itself. At the heart is a long-term favorite of mine, Dame Jasmine Hughes, who shines as Letitia in scene-stealing cameos. I can't believe it's her first time on a Guthrie stage and I'm certain it will not be her last. John Earl Jelks is wonderful as the zen-master Montrellous, lending wisdom and poise to every line. Reza Salazar is another scene stealer as the energetic Rafael; he demonstrates big heart through is performance that won the whole audience over. Andrew Veenstra gives the former white nationalist Jason a surprising amount of depth, inserting nuance into a very important stereotype these days. And Johanna Day is deliciously, heartbreakingly cruel as Floyd. Day is like the Cruella de Vil of the formerly incarcerated, and she clearly relishes the role.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

The set, designed by Laura Jellinek, cleverly opens like an aperture from an initial small vignette into a larger wide-screen, workable kitchen. It reminded me quite a bit of Mixed Blood's How to Use a Knife a couple of years ago, and it never wavers from the image of a simple prep kitchen. Jennifer Moeller's costume design is similarly straightforward. Christopher Akerlind hides all sorts of cherries into his nuanced lighting design, with special spotlights and special effects enhancing the dialogue. Justin Hicks' original music is a great background to the pauses between vignettes and gives the cast plenty of charisma to work with. And Director Kate Whoriskey has clearly provided a singular, clear vision for Floyd's that is beautifully executed by the rest of the wider production team.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

I am predisposed to enjoy shows that have a social / political message, and Floyd's fits right into my sweet spot. It's my second Lynn Nottage play (after the magnificent Ruined I saw at Mixed Blood several years ago - my first glorious time seeing Regina Marie Williams on stage), and I have a lot of catching up to do on the rest of her work. It's exciting to see the momentum mounting in the theater community towards commissioning and producing new work that reflects our current way of life, rather than constantly re-hashing old "classics" that may not have as much to say about our modern dilemmas. Nottage is a master at embedding a nuanced, believable, direct message into a highly entertaining package, and Floyd's is accessible and enjoyable for any kind of audience. I highly encourage anyone able to check out the show; click here for more information or to buy tickets before Floyd's closes on August 31.

Also: make sure your stop at the Guthrie isn't your only engagement with this subject matter. Floyd's might be a fictional play, but it represents very real problems. All Square, a restaurant in South Minneapolis, is a living embodiment of the issues raised in Floyd's. Make sure to visit All Square to get some delicious sandwiches and pay it forward to the formerly incarcerated community. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Thrillist: Best New Attractions in America

I love Minneapolis but it's not the only thing I know about!

Photo courtesy of Thrillist. 

I try as hard as I can to get out of my #twincities bubble. One of the greatest surprises for me has been Oklahoma, one of my favorite short weekend trips.

The Sooner State continues to capture attention thanks to thoughtful developments like The Gathering Place, which is one of Thrillist's Best New Attractions in the U.S. I wrote up a short interview with the staff there and was so pleased to learn about the incredible ways the community of Tulsa is being served by this beautiful new space. Click here to read the full piece, and let me know - what are your favorite local developments? What parts of the country are unjustly ignored?


Gathering Place
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Opened September 2018
A mid-size city in Oklahoma is not where you’d expect to find a $465 million park, but here it is. Gathering Place is putting Tulsa on the map, drawing visitors from as far away as Austin and Little Rock. Star landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh helmed the park’s design. The Roots performed at the opening last September.

Why all the fuss? Gathering Place is far more than its simple name implies. Like most parks, there is much green to behold: 1.2 million plants, 16 acres of gardens, a vast trail system, a pond for boating, and two great lawns offering views of the Arkansas River. There’s also a mammoth adventure park for all ages, with seven unique realms for play and one truly epic treehouse. You’ll find sculptures and murals by local artists throughout, plus a cutting-edge BMX skate park, sports courts, a lodge, and a boathouse.  And all this is just phase one: By late next summer, the park’s 70-acre footprint will expand with an interactive children’s museum.

The fairy godmother in this story is billionaire George F. Kaiser, a Tulsa-born banking tycoon and philanthropist who donated $200 million to the park, plus an additional $100 million endowment to help maintain it for the next 99 years. Admission is totally free. There is no gift shop peddling obscenely priced souvenirs. Gathering Place measures success not by the number of tickets sold, but by the amount of diversity in the park's attendees.

“I’ve never seen a project like this that did not have an aggressive return on investment plan,” says Tony Moore, Gathering Place’s Executive Director. “The primary ROI here is a social one that unites. It’s an economic changer, social changer, green space, and democratic space where all people can come together.” Sometimes a name says it all. -- Becki Iverson