Young Jean Lee Mar 7, 2008
by Mike P
So I get to OtB thinking I was running late, and there's a huge pile up at the door of the mainstage. Okay. I see that the only entrance to the seats is to walk all the way around the set. I get it...it's a journey. However, all the people in front of me were walking very slowly. The mood was contemplative. There were lanterns hung above, and paintings in an asian motif on the exterior of the set. I was bored. Everyone around me, in contrast, was seemingly fascinated and walking VERY SLOWLY. Am I being overly cynical? Am I not opening myself up to new experiences? Am I feeling like I should be feeling something I'm not? Should I just go home? Is someone watching me? I don't know, but it took about 5 minutes to get from the door to my seat.
Now I see why everyone is so damn slow. Everyone was "invited" to walk on some rocks--no one actually told us to do so, but everyone else did, which meant, I guess, that I should--that I presume to be asian rocks. Is that how they do in Asia? So I "choose" to walk on the floor to the left of the rocks. I felt like a badass, an asian that breaks the rules. Fuck you rocks, I rule! And then I walked up the aisle on house right when I had originally intended to walk across the stage to sit on the other side. Even though I am sure no one was watching me, someone was. I could feel it. The whole pre-show thing was mildly uncomfortable and quite interesting. I was excited for what was next.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine told me, "Oh my god, you'll love this show!" and then immediately recoiled because she assumed that I'd like it because I was asian-american. I admit, I enjoyed watching her squirm, but the other part of me felt bad, because, well I had hoped that I hadn't given her the idea that I'd be offended. Do I really give a shit? Should I give a shit? Why don't I give a SHIT?
I'm not going to try to analyze Songs here--you can do a googles search for that. I can't really give you any insight on this show that will give you any reason to feel okay about seeing this show or okay about being non-asian-american. Being asian-american is kind of special and you'll never really get it. I mean, we don't really get it either. Have no fear, I am sure there will be many other Asian-American Identity Plays in the future (the asian-american experience is still quite young, and the writing is just not in existence yet) that will attempt to figure it all out. Just be glad this show isn't about WWII Baseball teams or internment camps or overachievers who will never live up to their parent's expectations. Wait, maybe these things are in Songs? Just don't think too hard. I mean, why don't you help ME feel okay about all this?
Songs was very engaging. I was impressed with the transitions between all the shifting scenes and genres - once I was getting into a scene, it would turn into something else and I would feel a bit let down, a little disappointed. And well, I kind of love that feeling. Especially when most of the audience feels annoyed and lost. That's the best! Throughout the show there is a feeling that she's not entirely letting you in on the joke, and if she does a little, she immediately brainwashes you. Very asian.
My favorite moment is a toss up between the white people "taming the Koreans" with folding chairs amidst the golden pipes of Mariah Carey fading in and out to hilarious effect, and the exaggeratedly hip, self-conscious white couple rambling on about their existential crises (I shamefully felt like I was watching a WET show--sorry guys!) which a lot of people really enjoy watching and performing-whether they admit it or not--and something they weren't intending to see. They wanted Koreans, not white people! Zing! There was no climax, no denouement (Q. And what asshole, I ask you, doesn't love a good denoement? A. Me.) and that alone was really nice to see. I liked that the first image of the show is Young Jean, and she appears no where else in the show. But you hear Young Jean in the writing, and you desire to see her again but she doesn't let that happen. You have to watch someone/thing else instead.
And then I think, hey, should I really feel responsible for representing asian-americans as a whole and should I consider this in my future work and do I hold Young Jean accountable for representing asian-americans as a whole and would I feel this way if this show weren't about asian-americans, and will I still hold Young Jean accountable for representing asian-americans in her future work, and I wonder if Young Jean feels the same way, and then I wonder how many times I need to type asian-americans in this post so that it will appear in a higher position in a googles search. Really, don't think too hard.
In short, as I told some people after the show, I'm just glad that Young Jean Lee is creating strong roles for asian males in the American theatre. Thanks, Young Jean, thanks a lot!