Witty conversation, cocktails, haute cuisine, beautiful women and ballroom dancing at the Copacabana. That was the scene on Monday, March 5th for the Pan Asian Rep’s 30th Anniversary Gala. The evening played like a Noel Coward comedy and a lot like the company’s 2006 production of “Private Lives” which featured an entirely Asian-American cast.
But that was last season and the talk of this evening focused on what’s to come, particularly the 1st National Asian American Theatre Festival, an event that will bring together diverse forms of Asian-American theatre from around the country. With Pan Asian Rep as host, the inaugural event will kick off in May with the company’s revival of “Tea”. The story focuses on four women, all war brides, who gather to remember a friend who has just killed her abusive American husband and herself.
Putting on challenging material is the group’s forte, if not their raison d’etre. Most memorable is their production of the musical “Cambodia Agonistes” which explored, through a dancer’s consciousness the Cambodian genocide in the 70’s under the Khmer Rouge. Says Artistic Director Tisa Chang, “the company’s mission is to create innovative theater that calls upon Asian-American talent and heritage while breaking through the limitations of traditional casting and stereotyping”.
Emcee, playwright David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) reiterated that vision, commenting on how drastically stereotypes of Asian Americans have transformed from the uneducated, laundry people and fast order cooks, to the overeducated, ivy league shoe-ins and techno wizards. Hwang was joined by a host of presenters including John Weidman (“Pacific Overtures”), live performances and awards.
The evening honored the late actor Mako who starred in the original Broadway production of “Pacific Overtures” and in over 100 films from “The Hawaiians” to “Memoirs of a Geisha”. And Rocky Chin received the Community Service Award with the enthusiasm and energy that marks his accomplishments as a grass roots community leader. Finally, Pan Asian Rep’s traditional Red Socks Award for artistic achievement went to Nicky Paraiso. The performance artist turned the entertainment back to us when he walked up to the podium to take a photo of the audience.
By Isa Goldberg
Photo: Nanette Shaw