As the Star Tribune reported last week, there was a bit of controversy surrounding Theatre Mu's most recent production, WTF, by Katie Ka Vang. The play, presented in collaboration with the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), opened at Mixed Blood Theatre last week and was first called to account by Ka Vang, a woman who is related to one of the cast members (but not to playwright Katie Ka Vang). Vang criticized the production on her Facebook page for casting a non-Hmong actress in the lead role.
The play has received less-than-stellar reviews from the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, which I think is too bad—because I believe Katie Ka Vang has a unique voice that should be nurtured. Her play, though it could have been cut (it ran nearly three hours long) gives a voice to the Hmong-American experience at a high-profile venue. When I attended the production, the largely Hmong audience responded enthusiastically.
|wtf, presented through february 6 at mixed blood theatre. for tickets ($22) and information, see aboutchat.org.|
Would it have been better if they cast a Hmong Actress as the lead character, named True? I can't be the judge of that, as I'm not Hmong. If anything, I thought Sun Mee Chomet was too old for the part, and I wondered why they didn't cast Katie Ka Vang herself. Which is not to say that Chomet isn't a wonderful actress—she is. She brought a dry humor as well as pathos to the role—so for me, I could eventually overlook that she might not look exactly perfect for the part.
At the back of the set, there's a gorgeous traditional-looking Hmong quilt that acts as the backdrop. The quilt was much like the play itself: many pieces woven together. There was a narrative, but the story wandered, exploring through its characters the lives of mostly young Hmong-Americans making their way in the world.
At times the show dragged. Part of the problem stemmed from the theater's space, and the use of it. Toward the beginning of the piece, there is quite a long scene where True and her boyfriend Sunday, played by Saikong Yang, sit talking at the edge of a dock; the entire scene took place on a platform all the way down stage right, so it was very difficult to watch the scene if you were sitting on the opposite side.
Some of my favorite parts concerned the characters who didn't have much to do with the main storyline. For example, Mimo Xiong, who played Gaowee, provided fun energy as the little girl hanging around True's office. (Gaowee also displayed some killer breakdancing moves). I also quite liked the surreal character of Sunday's boss, played by Daniel Sach Le. Like Xiong, he raised the energy of the play, in contrast to the lead characters of True and Sunday, who were quite somber throughout.
It seems to me that discussions about the ethics of casting, particularly for such an ethnicity-specific piece as this, are inevitable—particularly in this case, given that the Hmong have historically been marginalized. I hope that Katie Ka Vang will have more opportunities to have her work seen, because she's a promising young playwright.
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