All Over the Map
The Winchester House in Los Angeles, Passport in Seattle, and Anti-Kiss in Boston.
"We all tell stories," says playwright Julia Cho. "It's the way we make sense of our lives." In her new play The Winchester House, now on view at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Los Angeles, the central character Via, a singer/songwriter, looks back upon a defining moment in her life and tries to understand it in a new way. "The play tries to mimic the way memory works -- how it trespasses, revises, transforms, and erases," says Cho.
This world premiere production is directed by Chay Yew, whom Cho has known for several years and with whom she has collaborated on a number of projects. "What I appreciate most about him is that he is just as precise aurally as he is visually," says Cho. "Since he's a playwright himself [A Language of Their Own, Red, Porcelain], he really understands how important the rhythms and beats of a play are. He hears things the way I hear them, which is rare. And, because we've worked together so many times, we have a kind of shorthand by now. We're each very much attuned to how the other thinks."
Cho is a graduate of New York University's dramatic writing program; her prior work includes The Architecture of Loss and BFE. As is the case with those works, the central character of The Winchester House is Asian American. When asked how ethnicity affects the dynamics of the play, Cho responds, "The characters think and act out of who they are and where they're from -- and that, of course, includes their ethnicity. But I would say that the play is not just about Asian Americans; it's about New Englanders and British Americans, too. The difference, of course, is that Asian Americans are considered 'ethnic' whereas white Americans are not. The truth is, we all come from somewhere; we are all part of some kind of culture or tradition that could be deemed 'ethnic.' "
While Cho is based in Los Angeles, a number of her plays have been produced in New York and other cities. "Like a lot of theater artists, I work wherever I'm invited," she says. "I do think theater in L.A. is a bit more marginal than it is in New York City, but there's just as much passion about it. With all the theaters in the L.A. region, and so many theater artists flying back and forth, Los Angeles and New York somehow feel very close to each other."
The world premiere production of Bret Fetzer's Passport, an evening of eight 10-minute plays at the Annex Theater in Seattle, is the next best thing to an around -the-world vacation. The first seven playlets are set on the world's various continents, in locales and situations ranging from a Peruvian temple to a gondola in Venice to a rest stop in Kansas. The eighth takes place on a Soviet space station.
Fetzer has written each piece in a different style, from self-conscious narration to naturalism; yet they all deal with issues of love, lust, and miscommunication, and they all feature a certain character who appears in many different incarnations.
Travel is a natural subject for Fetzer, who was born in San Diego and later lived in Louisiana, Texas, and Bogotá, Colombia. Why was he constantly on the move? "The short answer is that my mother kept getting divorced," he explains. "I think it's particularly valuable for children to travel, because it really makes you aware early on that not everyone does things the same way." (One of the short plays is set in a city reminiscent of one that the author constantly visited when he lived in Colombia.)
Fetzer, who has been a Seattle resident for the past 20 years, also acts in the show. Many of the women in the eight-person cast are also playing men's roles, but Fetzer says that this is no gimmick. "There's always an abundance of incredibly strong women and a scarcity of strong men in Seattle," he remarks.
Forrest Blount's Anti-Kiss, the inaugural production of the 3 Monkeys Theater Company, is not your average boy-meets-girl story. Here, the boy leaves girl to pursue career opportunities in Europe, and the girl then hooks up with the boy's ex-girlfriend in a personal and sexual awakening that involves artistic exploration and S&M.
Blount got the idea for the piece when the gay marriage debate was buzzing around Boston, dominating local television and newspaper headlines. He responded to the controversy by asking himself "Who owns our sexual identity?" As he points out, the girl in his play loves her boyfriend but makes the difficult decision to leave him. Her romantic relationship with another woman simply opens her to new perspectives on what her life can be.
According to Blount, the script intimidated some of the actors in the Boston theater community, but only a few declined to audition. Although he makes clear that none of the play's sexual content is gratuitous, he also states that sex and violence onstage is useful in making sure that the audience is "viscerally engaged." As he explains, "The ideas of the play catch you off guard because of your emotional investment. Seeing that part of yourself is scary, but it's important for us to understand where we stand, not as a culture but as individuals, in terms of our sexual comfort zone."