Nakahara and Chang were impressed by the very qualities of Poet that Escobedo himself possesses: charm, intelligence, and youth. He has pitched a perfect game. Without an agent and with little fanfare, Escobedo submitted his script to Pan Asian Rep. Nakahara and Chang liked it, and based on the response of a single reading, the play moved to a full production that begins previews June 21 at Theatre Four.
The Poet of Columbus Avenue is set in San Francisco's Chinatown, and Nakahara describes it as fresh and well written, a gentle throwback to another age. "Tisa and I were really surprised by it," he says. "It's not the sort of script you often see, in town or out." Four of the five characters are men, but the female lead, Mary, is the spiritual core. "All of the decisions she makes set the action," Escobedo explains. "The plot grows out of her character."
Billed as a romantic comedy--with delightful screwball elements--Escobedo likened it to the Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn comedies of the '30s and '40s. He's been working on it for three years, but it all started with a simple idea: to write a sweet play with an urban, Woody Allen flavor.
Nakahara praises cast members, many of whom he has previously worked with. "They aren't just comic actors, but accomplished actors," he says. "It takes a real sense of humor to understand comedy, and not everybody does." Defining funny, Escobedo admits, still occasionally escapes him. "I find it fairly easy to write, but sometimes I laugh out loud in an empty room. But, inevitably, when it's read for the first time, nobody laughs. And then there are other passages that may not read humorously, but which play funny, because the actor defines it as part of their character. That's most rewarding--to have a director and cast bring surprises."
For Chang, Poet represents a time of transition for Pan Asian Rep, which is on the cusp of change. "We want to expand to better meet the needs of, and to reflect, the population of the 21st century," she begins. "And this means that the people in this play are young, hip, sophisticated, and American, and that their Asian heritage is almost an after-thought. It's very right for us to reflect this younger generation's being, their presence and their dreams."
Escobedo and Nakahara have an easy rapport, and the director is cautious about interfering in rewrites. After the play's reading, they agreed that revisions would have to make the play stronger. "I tried to make it as plain as possible," Nakahara comments, "so rewrites wouldn't be done in the dark. Honesty is the bottom line, and since Poet was a well developed play, not much work had to be done."
Escobedo interjects, "There are such horror stories about directors, but what I respected about Ron is that he took the energy of my initial changes and combined it with the polish of the later rewrites. He took my words and added clarity."
The play, they hope, will speak poignantly to the 20-something generation. While people of all ages continue to look for love, Escobedo observes that people who are in their 20s tend to think, once they have found love, "What should I do with it?"
Chang spoke with marked enthusiasm about the milestone of this production, noting its freshness, sincerity, and passion, its poetic language that balances humor and reverence, and its appropriate placement in their millennium season.
"It's a vehicle that showcases younger Asian-American actors, and is a reflection of us now," Chang remarks. "Pan Asian Rep wants to move forward as a sophisticated producer. To nurture plays with caution and with an eye toward excellence. If we produce with integrity and love, we can be a support mechanism to playwrights and directors, and can be part of a productive and harmonious exchange between them."