ALBUS WANG WRITES– East West Players, the oldest theatre group representing racial minorities, has a new play: “Man of God.”
Inspired by the “Me Too” movement in 2017 and the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the show emboldens sexual assault survivors and supports the vow of the survivors refusing to stay silent.
Written by Anna Moench and directed by Jesca Prudencio, “Man of God” tackles sexual assault in the context of four Korean -American Christian teenage girls: Samantha, Kyung-Hwa, Mimi, and Jen, all different from one another but together on a mission trip in Thailand. The story opens with the four friends in their hotel room waiting for dinner.
Samantha loves fairy tales and she thinks the world is like them. Jen is extremely focused on her education and nothing can change her focus. Kyung-Hwa’s whole being is about her faith in Jesus. Mimi is your typical rebellious teenager who gets a tattoo to spite her mother. The turning point that connects them is when they realize that there is a camera in their hotel bathroom.
The story unfolds in a country with a different perspective than that of the west. Set in Asia where conversations around sex are seen as taboo, Writer Moench questions Americans’ perspective on Thailand as a country. She goes on to mock America’s idea of Thailand, often seen as a country with free reigning prostitution, through the use of neon lights and go-go bars. Although delicately portrayed through the folds of comedy that envelop this work, the play doesn’t shy away from the seriousness of sexual assault. With displays of cute, witty, energetic bickering and fantasies, the four teenage girls talk about their experiences that challenge their beliefs.
The set design and direction, too, complement the theme of the play. Rebecca Bonebrake, the lighting designer, uses a blend of neon lights on stage to mimic the bustle of Thai streets. The vivacious colors create a light show of sorts, adding to the fantasy and mystery of the story.
Director Jesca Prudencio employs fast pace, with the whole play swinging in between continuous twists, turns, and surprises. Within 80 minutes, four girls discover each other’s shocking past experiences. It’s like an emotional rollercoaster that makes you scared, excited, and wanting more. And when the play slows down, you are hit with reality: the four girls are much powerless than they think.
After watching the play, I could only conjure one image: being haunted by a ghost that has latched onto you. Being a survivor of Sexual assault is like constantly having a ghost on your back. Survivors don’t see it all the time, but they always carry it. When the ghost finally pops up in front of them, they are left frustrated, scared, and powerless. The ghost is the issue and the assaulter. During the play, each girl fantasizes about how they would hurt the minister who abused them. At the end of the play, the minister shows up in their room but nobody does anything. “Man of God” tells us that the ghost will not disappear and the ghost is on all our backs.
Where: David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles , California 90012 United States
When: January 31 – February 24, 2019
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes without intermission