One thing you have to say about those Donnelly’s – they know how to make an entrance.
Take the dashing, thunderously white stepson Joshua. He doesn’t so much enter a room but rather is sent in by a vicious gust of wind. His eyes peer down, and even his nose seeks a firm desire to be condescending. Whatever Joshua wants, Joshua must have, even if his speech pattern doesn’t always make clear what he wants.
Yet in all fairness, if my curriculum vitae was rockin’ four MFA’s, I might be insufferable too.
Joshua is a member of the zeitgeist that is white people by the water. You know the plays if you’ve studied even a hint of Western drama. It basically goes like this – some tragic event brings a family of white folks to a house on the lake. After the initial greetings, tensions arise, secrets are revealed, the wine glasses start to stack up like a jenga puzzle. Those secrets rip out the flesh of a family who might lose their mirth, but they still have some sweet property by the water.
Leah Nanako Winkler’s whip-smart satirical play “Two Mile Hollow,” is a response to that genre, except all the white family is portrayed by Asians-American performers wearing horrendously brilliant blonde wigs. The show is one of four world premieres nationwide, produced by Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company and directed with great flair by Lily Tung Crystal, now running at Potrero Stage in San Francisco through July 15th.
You can see that the pinot doesn’t fall far from the grapes when you meet the rest of the lot, a family that lives under the watchful eye of the late film star Derek Donnelly, their patriarch. There is the aptly named Blythe (a battering ram performance from Michelle Tagarow), the pill-popping white mother who flashes her Norma Desmond hat as she keeps a look on her face that says she smells something horrible. And then you have Mary (the wide-eyed delight Karen Offereins), who spends the bulk of her time as the target of barbs from others. Rounding out the family is the wispy Christopher (wildly energetic Sean Fenton), in direct competition for the title of best family actor with the aforementioned Joshua (the hilarious Greg Ayers).
There is one other, whom the Donnelly’s don’t always know how to handle. She’s the only woman of color of the characters, Christopher’s lovely assistant Charlotte (multi-layered talent Rinabeth Apostol). Hell, they treat her as the only woman of color they’ve ever met. The “Mongolian,” as she is derisively called, is constantly being sized up by Blythe, constantly being tugged over by Joshua and Christopher, yet stands toe to toe with whomever decides to challenge her. The only thing that keeps her in any type of good grace is her New Haven, Connecticut education, which must only mean one school. Boola boola?
The play is made up of so many moments where Tung Crystal’s direction squeezes out every ounce of laughter from the text, an all-out assault on the audience and their funny bones. Not every laugh played throughout the raucous opening night party crowd, with some pockets of the house finding more laughs than in other parts at times. But the play is extremely funny.
Take the dueling seagull calls between Blythe and Mary. It goes on and on, and gets funnier with every call that tops the one prior. And there is the all out devastation by Christopher and Joshua, who find themselves going full Lord of the Flies in the planter boxes, coming away with dirt streaks that resemble war paint after a first world problem meltdown.
What makes Winkler’s play so smart is the constant mixing and matching of styles and a really rich knowledge of form. You have little touches where the family is having a quote battle (for me, reminiscent of the Van Doren Shakespeare brain fest in the film “Quiz Show” as the family picnicked in the backyard). There are also plenty of references to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sanford Meisner, the brilliance of Black twitter, lots of Chekhov and even Drake. And don’t forget spoken word, which also makes an appearance.
While the play may challenge those folks who are concerned about white fragility, here’s the bigger point – Winkler doesn’t give two shits about that. What is more of a concern is that Asian-American performers and other artists of color who dream of careers on stage and screen only make up a tiny sliver of the jobs that are available. The play is a great blend of poetic justice and cultural agency.
This point is made poignantly by Charlotte, a point that needs to be made – Actors, writers and artist of color don’t need to wait for jobs to be created for them. They don’t need to wait for playwrights to deem their worth. They don’t need to wait for theatre companies to slip in a play between five others that have been seen a million times over. Artists of color will create their own worth. Artists of color will create their own content. Waiting for others to validate an existence is done.
Simply put, artists of color will take it from here.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company, along with Intersection for the Arts, presents “Two Mile Hollow”
Written by Leah Nanako Winkler
Directed by Lily Tung Crystal
The Word: A sharp satirical piece from rising talent Leah Nanako Winkler, produced with ferocity from Ferocious Lotus.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Running time: One hour, 55 minutes with one intermission
Through July 15th
1695 18th Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $25 – $40
For tickets, call (415) 322-0859 or visit www.ferociouslotus.org