If there’s anything that students at the College love to think about, it’s identity. Indeed, the big questions about who we are, what we want to do and what we can (or in some cases should) become are some of the most fundamental, dynamic issues we grapple with, shaping the ways we think and interact. Which is why, at least for this Williams student, Elizabeth Liang’s one-woman show “Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey,” performed last Thursday at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, strikes such a profound and memorable chord.
After all, the show deals with just that problem. Telling the largely auto-biographical story of Liang, “Alien Citizen” describes a girlhood spent travelling between Central America, North Africa, the Middle East and New England, a journey ever-complicated by Liang’s own biracial status. And, like any journey, there are certainly plenty of obstacles to overcome – obstacles, in this case, which include the threats of racism, classism, sexism and, obviously, alienation. Indeed, perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the journey Liang goes on is its profound sense of loneliness – as a self-described “Third Culture Kid,” Liang feels like a foreigner even in the places where she’s stayed the longest.
The show’s most memorable quality, however, is the amazing amount of humor, aplomb and hope that Liang lends to her story. The piece is, after all, a performance, and in this case the unique charm the storyteller offers, both as narrator and character, cannot help but gain the sympathies of her audience. Indeed, by the end of the show, we are as invested in her journey as she is, and when a New England women’s college presents the last hurdle for her to overcome, we can’t help but feel like we’ve learned something about ourselves along with her.
Which is why, at the end of the day, the story Liang tells in “Alien Citizen” is more than just a story about a woman, or a mixed racial person, or a frequent traveler. It is a story about our own responses and reactions to adversity, especially the adversity created by an increasingly segmented, commercialized society. Liang’s story rings true for us today because it describes, basically, the challenges we have to overcome in our every day lives – it offers a prescription for confronting who we are and how we fit into the broader schema of our homes and communities. And, while our individual stories may not seem as interesting or as carefully constructed or as entertaining as hers, that shared understanding lays the foundation for a show that any student at the College couldn’t help but find enjoyable and enlightening.