By Deardra Shuler
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre founder, producer and artistic director Tisa Chang, joined me in my office to talk about Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's upcoming season. The 31st season of Pan Asian Rep starts out with a bang with the production of The Joy Luck Club. This well known production runs from October 28th through November 25th at the Julia Miles Theatre, located at 424 W. 55th Street (bet. 9th & 10th Ave). Opening night is on Wednesday, November 7th at 7:00 p.m., Performances run Tues-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday Matinee at 3:00 p.m.
“The Joy Luck Club,” the best selling novel written by Amy Tan has been read by varied ethnic groups and translated into several languages. It was made into a Hollywood film directed by Wayne Wang in 1993. Pan Asian Rep did a New York premiere of the play in 1999 and has brought it back this season. The story is about 4 Chinese women who moved to the United States in the 1940s and 1950s where they birthed their children. The storyline has flashbacks to China as the mothers seek to hold onto the culture and customs of China while struggling to adjust to their new homeland and their children’s embrace of the American way.
“I feel a close connection to “The Joy Luck Club” because I feel in many ways it underscores my own personal journey. I was born in China, near the end of WW II. My parents migrated to New York City in 1946 and I followed a year later. “The Joy Luck Club,” set in San Francisco, is about relationships, primarily the relationship between 4 mothers and their daughters,” stated Chang who went on to talk about the relevancy of the play as it affects all cultures. “In today’s world there is much mixing of the races and intermarriages. This speaks to the universality of the play. So much is changing. China itself is changing. It’s a country with 55 different minorities within its provinces. Those provinces could really be different countries were it ever sliced up. China is presently trying to harness these diverse minorities and their diverse dialects into one language, Mandarin, and make Mandarin the national dialect. I think personally this will enrich the Chinese people because they will not only know Mandarin but can continue to speak their own dialects of Cantonese, Hakka Taiwanese, Huainan, et al, ”remarked the talented artistic director.
Korean playwright Susan Kim’s adaptation of “The Joy Luck Club” requires 26 scene shifts and nearly 100 props and diverse costumes. Several time periods are depicted within the play: modern contemporary 1987 San Francisco to China in the 1920s, and the 1950’s and ‘60s era when the daughters grew up. “I am inspired and imbued by all the actors, designers, writers, and directors that have been part of the 30 years that make up the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre experience. I believe they all support our goal to make an impact upon American theatre,” remarked Chang concerning the primary purpose for her founding the Asian/Pan Asian/Asian American supported theatre. “The name ‘Pan Asian’ is understood as ‘all inclusive’ of Asia. This includes China, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, Thailand, South East Asia, and India. I am actually thinking of adding some Middle Eastern stories now that the Middle East has become so important and urgent. I think their stories should be told. I understand that State Department/International Relationships and our artistic goals may not work in tandem, but it has always been my hope to visit some of the countries that unfortunately might have tenuous relations. Pan Asian Repertory Theatre has toured Singapore, Cairo, Egypt, and Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1995, when Nelson Mandela just became President, we performed the musical “Cambodia Agonistes,” in South Africa. “Cambodia Agonistes” is a play about Cambodian genocide under the rule of Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot during the 1970s. You cannot imagine how I felt as part of a Pan Asian/Asian American theatrical company, representing the United States in South Africa, when for the first time, both black and white audiences sat together. Even recalling this most wondrous moment in my life as I tell it to you now, I cannot help but get emotional. It was so right and so apropos that we did this extraordinary and poignant musical about the killing of 2 million Cambodian people since we all know what South Africa represented. The South African white audiences were rather restrained but the diverse Black South Africans really identified with the musical. Many of them were from Tanzania and Mozambique and the neighboring countries. Their overwhelming response said they got it. They got the play and I felt so good because it meant we had done our job,” said the teary eyed former dancer recalling that heart wrenching historic moment.
The Joy Luck Club cast members include Lydia Gaston, Wai Ching Ho, Dian Kobayashi and Virginia Wing as the mothers. Additional cast: Tina Chilip, Sacha Iskra, Han Nah Kim and Kathleen Kwan; Stage Manager, James W. Carringer; Costumes by Carol Pelletier; Scenic Design: Kaori Akazawa, and Lighting by Victor En Yu Tan.
Future Pan Asian Rep productions include “The Missing Woman” at the West End Theatre, located at 263 West 86th Street, NYC (from April 1-13, 2008); “Shogun MacBeth” (running October 2-18, 2008). $50 Tickets can be obtained personally at the Julia Miles Theatre Box Office, by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or via www.broadwayoffers.com.
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, located at 520 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan, (212-868-4030) is the largest and oldest Asian Repertory Theatre in New York on a national and international scale. “We open doors for Pan Asian performers, directors, and writers. We have had over 100 productions.” Tisa stated proudly. “I am Pan Asian. I think that says as Asians we celebrate, extol, and find the very best of our stories and history to contribute. This is what we want the world to know and to share concerning the richness and value of our culture.”
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