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Grief in ‘Asian Men’ Occurs by Occident

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Concerning the program of performance pieces called “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Asian Men,” Gary San Angel of Tustin said that it “has been an opportunity to reclaim our identity as Asian American men. Our identity has been kind of abused.”

The staging of these 10 performance art vignettes at Highways in Santa Monica over the weekend was more than that. Under the overall guidance and direction of Dan Kwong and conceived in his workshops, they are portraits not only of the men as they would like to be perceived, but also of men with a special aura of sensitivity--to their outward images and to the forces that have made them what and who they are.

All autobiographical, a performance art specialty of Kwong’s, the monologues (frequently employing other members of the troupe) vary in effectiveness according to the material written by each member, and the intensity with which it is delivered.

Radmar Agana Jao’s childhood in Illinois was marked by his frustration at others’ inability to pronounce his name. His approach gives special insight into his problems with being accepted as well as the generally opaque attitudes of Americans to differences in those around us. Mark Jue’s multilayered “Bus Ride,” from public buses to school buses to a bus trip to an Asian internment camp, is particularly poignant in its kaleidoscopic mosaic of the Asian in our land.

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In “Amigo, Compa, Hermano,” a sort of “whatever happened to that old gang of mine?” memory piece, Darrell Kunitomi recalls the days when there were few guns on the streets and variously ethnic young men sort of got along, and how the Vietnam War and changing times altered all that. One of the most affecting pieces, by Cambodian Manhao Chhor, is a little bit of theatrical magic about a son’s altering views of his father. Manhao reaches back to his childhood days of walking barefoot to Singapore, and his teen-age years in America when his respect for Papa’s old-world ways began to decay. In the end he comes to know his father, and even dons the father’s non-macho, traditional sarong.

The evening, as varied as the intentions and personalities of each of the members, is tied together in San Angel’s emotional and romantic closer, “Piecing Together a Broken Rock.” San Angel performed and directed the piece, supported by the entire company.

Decidedly early-'70s in tone, with the ritual lighting of candles to be given to each performer and a song that echoes the feel of that era, San Angel’s work caps the evening impressively with a soaring, poetic description of finding not only your part in America’s melting pot, but also your emotional connections within your community.

San Angel, a founding member of Irvine’s Theatre of Color, says in his piece that he was “all broken, and I need to be fixed.” The repair takes place when he and his brothers make eye contact with audience members and chant, “I know your face.”

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* “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Asian Men,” Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Closed. Information: (310) 453-1755.

Ensemble: Dan Kwong, Gary San Angel, Radmar Agana Jao, Hoang Pham, Yoshio Moriwaki, Mark Jue, Darrell Kunitomi, Manhao Chhor, Alex Luu, Royd Hatta.

A part of Highways’ “Treasure in the House” series. Directed by Dan Kwong (portions by Gary San Angel and Darrell Kunitomi). Technical director: Jerry Browning. Lighting design: Michael Mufson.


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