“The Chinese Lady,” a play about one of the first Chinese women to immigrate to the United States, will open at Capital Stage this coming weekend and will run through Feb. 26. The play touches on themes of anti-Asian hate and invisibility as it follows 14-year-old Afong Moy as she travels the country as a “living exhibit.” The play is written by Lloyd Suh and directed at Capital Stage by Michelle Talgarow.
Talgarow spoke with CapRadio’s Race and Equity Reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan about the importance of performing plays about the Asian American experience. She also said she feels the message behind “The Chinese Lady” is even more important now, in the wake of two mass shootings that killed over a dozen people in California, many of whom were Asian. Below are some excerpts from their conversation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On elevating Asian American stories and voices:
The [theater] landscape is slowly changing I think, especially after George Floyd. I think a lot of theater companies are really rethinking their programming. But when it comes to Asian stories, I think that is still toward the bottom of the rung. I think this story's important in this current landscape because of the current wave of anti-Asian hate that has basically resurfaced. This play speaks to that in the sense of reminding everybody of the continued history of oppression amongst a lot of minorities, and specifically speaking to the Chinese oppression in history, it's important because it reflects what's happening today.
On how this play will resonate with West Coast audiences:
West Coast audiences will receive it in a way that will feel like we're speaking to our history and maybe speaking to their ancestral line, or maybe their immigration story. For folks who aren't from here, I think that perspective could be also something brand new. I didn't really know about this character either before, so this is also bringing in a whole new historical story, a historical perspective about the first Chinese lady here in America.
You know, being Asian is not a monolith, it's a huge diaspora. I’m Filipina. And it was really important for me that we have somebody on board [in production] who is Chinese. You know, it's like, yeah, I may look Asian, but that still doesn't mean that I know anything about the Chinese culture either. It's important for me that the voices that create this play are a part of the culture that we're telling.
On how the significance of this play has changed since the shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay:
One of the themes [of this play] for me is the disappearance of the Asian woman. When you reach a particular age, you know, with this character [Afong Moy], there's some documentation and then she gets to a point, I believe it's in her late twenties, where after that we know nothing of her. And I feel that way about women and Asian women. I'm middle aged and I feel we're not considered sexy or beautiful, our opinion doesn't matter anymore. You get older and you're kind of pushed to the side. You don't have any "worth." This play also speaks to that.
To me, one of the most important things, because a couple of the shooters have been named as elder Asian men, it makes me think about our community and the community of elders and the resources that they have to deal with their own personal trauma and mental health.
Capital Stage will be making an acknowledgement of the victims of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings before their opening performance.
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