ATP performance explores cultural identities

Marriage, UFOs, boiled chicken feet. It is no easy task to tackle all of these subjects in one two-hour play.

Last weekend, the Asian Theater Project (ATP) presented Prince Gomolvilas’s “The Theory of Everything,” one of the last events of Asian-American Awareness Month. Student director Romina Bernardo ’05 was the driving force behind the countless meetings and rehearsals that went into the production, as well as the challenging task of picking the play for this year.

“Finding a play was difficult simply because there aren’t many plays out there that are in any way related to Asian-Americans, or Asians, even,” Bernardo said. “When looking for a play, I also had to keep in mind the fact that ATP doesn’t have many resources in terms of manpower and finances, so the production couldn’t be very big.”

The two performances were scheduled to take place on Thursday and Saturday evenings in the Berkshire Quad, but rain brought an early end to Thursday night’s play.

Set on the rooftop of a Las Vegas Love Chapel, “The Theory of Everything” follows the slightly eccentric existence of a group of seven Asian-American characters, each one trying to define his or her own identity in the United States. The scenes were interspersed with individual monologues, during which each character shared a personal reflection with the audience.

In the first scene, a spotlight focuses on Patty, a 39-year-old Thai-American immigrant, as she delivers the first speech of the play. Played by Jean Shin ’06, Patty passionately confesses a fascination with aliens and decides that she is long overdue for a UFO sighting, since the chances of having an alien encounter are about as high as witnessing a bank robbery – and she has already seen several of those.

“Patty. . .is very Americanized because, unlike most of the adult characters in the play, she immigrated to America when she was a teenager,” Shin said. “She has lost almost all hope in the world after she finds out that she cannot have children and loses hope in God, but clings to her belief in aliens.”

Patty is largely responsible for bringing the characters together in one place; she is the one who asks them to stay for an overnight UFO-hunt on the roof of the Love Chapel. She is confident that there will finally be a sighting not only because it is her birthday, but also because her mother, Grandma May (Robin Hwang ’04), has excitedly woken from her sleep with news of bright lights and a strange, glowing ship while sleeping on the rooftop.

Patty relies on the support and advice of her best friend, Shimmy, played by Crystal Son ’05. Shimmy is a 43-year-old Filipino-American, but unlike Patty, she has encountered more difficulty in leaving her home and adjusting to the new culture of the United States. A diligent writer of essays with topics ranging from blackjack to Madonna, Shimmy confesses her confusion over such American phrases as “selling like hotcakes.” (As a former waitress, she feels that this should be changed to “selling like bacon and eggs” since more people buy bacon and eggs than hotcakes.)

Patty’s husband, Hiro (Justin Cho ’05), is similarly dissatisfied with his new experiences, as compared with his old life in Japan. He dreams of becoming a Jackie Chan-like hero and of returning to his home country, because even though he may be poor in Japan, at least he “still feels like [he] is alive.”

The struggle to preserve one’s Asian heritage in a city as typically American as Las Vegas is an especially prominent theme in the play and many scenes find the characters addressing pressing issues like prejudice and cultural identity.

Gilbert, played by Andy Huang ’04, is another character who is particularly fixated on discovering his identity. Initially determined to change his name to “Ibuprofen” (because it “makes people feel better”), Gilbert moves through various stages in a life which he has named “lost Gilbert.” Gilbert attempts to find himself through a number of hilarious and often touching moments, including making a marriage proposal to his childhood friend, Lana (Holly Takashima ’05). By the end of the play, Gilbert discovers his that he is a homosexual after a serious talk with best friend, Nef (Ali Moiz ’06), and is perplexed when Nef reacts abruptly and runs away (“Is it because I’m Filipino?”).

“Like his monologue says, Gilbert feels like he has lived in ‘lost Gilbert’ all his life,” Huang said. “He feels unaccomplished and blames it on his mother. He also hides his homosexuality under a false image he has worked to create.”

Siblings Lana and Nef must also confront the complications that arise from growing up in America, especially under the ardent direction of Chinese-American immigrant parents. The hysterically spastic Lana must face the added catastrophe of being kicked out of law school and dumped by her boyfriend on the same day, while the more grounded Nef scrutinizes Einstein’s theorems for the answer to why he is “not Chinese enough” for his Chinese girlfriend. In one of the more entertaining monologues, Nef articulates his incredulity over his parents’ love of boiled chicken feet.

In the final scene, the cast returns to the rooftop, each person turning his or her head to the sky. As the wise Grandma May looks on, they wait patiently for alien life – or maybe even for a reply to some unanswered question. And even though there are still no UFOs in sight as the lights dim, the audience can believe that each character is finally on a path to finding what he or she is looking for.

“[The script] had something for everyone,” Bernardo said. “It dealt not only with Asian Americans, but immigrants as well, so I thought both the Asian Americans and the international students in the audience would relate pretty well. At the same time, it dealt with universal themes that could apply to anyone and everyone – issues like relationships, homosexuality, personal identity crises, life goals, etc.”

“I am very proud of the entire cast, director, tech… everyone who put in their time and effort into the production,” Shin said. “I felt very satisfied after everything came together and was so happy that everyone came through and supported ATP.”

“ATP for me is much more than just acting in a play,” Huang said. “My main purpose for doing the play was to meet new people, make new friends and have a great time doing it. Being part of a play is an experience we will always cherish and never forget.”

“The Theory of Everything” was put together with the help of members from Asian-American Students in Action (AASiA) and the Minority Coalition (MinCo). This is ATP’s 11th spring production since the group was founded.