Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre celebrated the 100th birthday of pioneering Asian-American film actress Anna May Wong yesterday with a gala benefit dinner at the Manhattan Penthouse. The screen siren began her movie career during the silent film era and is best known for roles in films such as Thief of Baghdad (1924), Daughter of the Dragon (1931), and Shanghai Express (1932).

Comedian Esther Paik Goodhart emceed the event, which included a full-course dinner, a raffle, and the presentation of the first Lilah Kan Red Socks Award, named in memory of a beloved benefactor to Asian-American theater artists. The award is intended to go to Asian-American actors with financial need. This year's recipient was actress Roseanne Ma, who will be playing Anna May Wong later this spring in Pan Asian Rep's production of China Doll, a play by Elizabeth Wong (no relation). "Wow, I didn't know it was going to include money!" exclaimed Ma as she accepted the award.

The highlight of the evening was an Anna May Wong look-alike contest. Celebrity judges included playwright-performer Charles Busch, actor Francis Jue (currently in Pacific Overtures), costume designer Willa Kim, and director-choreographer Lu Yu. (Talent agent and former nightclub entertainer Jadin Wong, previously announced as a judge, was unable to be present due to illness.) Ma was among the contestants, as were four other young women, two men in drag, and a dog. "I always knew Anna May was a bitch," cracked Goodhart as she welcomed the canine contestant to the stage. (Trixie the beagle was not the winner; that honor went to the elegantly dressed Victoria Chang.)

Pan Asian Repertory is the oldest Asian-American theater company in New York City, currently in its 28th season. Founded by artistic director Tisa Chang, the company is dedicated to celebrating Asian-American artistic expressiveness on the living stage. Proceeds from last evening's benefit will go toward Pan Asian's world premiere production of China Doll, a theatrical re-imagining of the life and career of Anna May Wong. The play is slated to run April 2-24 at the West End Theatre. For more information, visit www.panasianrep.org.