With “Hot Asian Doctor Husband,” you don’t have to choose between a contemporary rom-com and a touching drama. Commissioned by Theater Mu, now having its world premiere at the Mixed Blood, Leah Nanako Winkler’s play is both.
The first part has five characters: Emi (Meghan Kreidler), who is mixed-race Japanese and white; her white boyfriend, Collin (Damian Leverett); her black best friend Leonard (Mikell Sapp); Leonard’s ethnically ambiguous current girlfriend, Veronica (Danielle Troiano); and Hot Asian Doctor Husband (Eric Sharp). Emi thinks he’s Japanese.
As the play opens, Emi is breaking up with Collin. She has recently suffered a great loss. We don’t yet know what it is, but her response is to blow up her life. There’s nothing wrong with Collin – he loves Emi, she loves him – except he’s white. Emi has made the decision to “decolonize her vagina.” She wants the father of her children to be Asian, or at least not white. Her specific wish is for a Hot Asian Doctor Husband.
She will soon find one. Unfortunately, he is already married. “I am a doctor,” he tells the audience. “People say I am hot. I am Asian. I am a hot Asian doctor husband.” He is matter-of-factly unfaithful to his wife, with a sense of entitlement and zero guilt. Other women are sidepieces. Emi will be his next sidepiece. Sharp is hilarious as the narcissistic doc.
Leonard and Veronica make their first appearance doing something you won’t want to explain to the kids. (This is a play for adults.) Leonard is an actor, and wealthy. Veronica is … what? We don’t learn anything about her at first, because Leonard hasn’t bothered to learn anything about her. They hook up, but they don’t go out, and he hasn’t invited her into his world. At first, Leonard comes off as selfish and shallow. But he’s a caring friend to Emi and Collin. And eventually we learn that Veronica is a complex, accomplished person.
Everyone but Hot Asian Doctor Husband is likable. These are the people with whom we spend the first part of the play, the rom-com part. We sympathize with Emi’s struggle, Collin’s frustration and Veronica’s issues with Leonard. We laugh a lot. The writing is sharp and witty, the topics current and immediate: identity, authenticity, ethnicity, race, culture. The acting, staging and pacing are all strong. Kudos to the cast, director Seonjae Kim, scenic designer Sarah Brandner, lighting designer Karin Olson, sound designer Katharine Horowitz and the rest of the production team who brought Winkler’s work to life. It’s tremendously entertaining.
The first part takes a serious turn before it becomes the second part. There’s no intermission. We learn that Emi’s mother has died. This has left Emi in a bad way. The Hot Asian Doctor Husband hasn’t worked out. Collin is still there for her and offers to help her, with no strings attached. He really is a kind person. Then a pink ball appears, followed by a little Asian girl (Maekalah Ratsabout) and a Japanese mother (Sun Mee Chomet).
After sound clues and a blackout, the second part begins. The characters from the first part – all but Emi – become something else. We’re taken somewhere else – a dream, perhaps, or a Japanese folktale version of Emi’s childhood and how her mother died. The second part is about grief, loss and love. As Emi’s mother, Sun Mee Chomet shines. (Chomet is also in the first part. It’s her voice we hear in a screamingly funny scene.)
At the theater, we found the switch unsettling and confusing. We don’t mind feeling unsettled by a play, but we do mind wondering “What just happened?” Over the next few days, when we thought back on “Hot Asian Doctor Husband,” we revisited the second part most often. We remembered the depth and tenderness of Chomet and Kreidler’s interactions and how the story traveled through time. We saw how the second part informed the first, putting Emi’s decisions and behavior in a new light and making Kreidler’s performance even more outstanding.
Maybe the transition between the two parts could and should have been handled differently. But without the second part, the play would seem one-dimensional.
“Hot Asian Doctor” continues through Sept. 1. FMI and tickets (pay-as-you-are pricing $5-50; fair market value $35).
P.S. Kreidler was named Emerging Artist at what turned out to be the final Ivy Awards in 2017. She famously ended her acceptance speech with “Screw fear!” She is also the lead singer in the rock band Kiss the Tiger. They’ll play Icehouse on Aug. 27 as part of Musicians Rising for Climate Justice. FMI.
Tonight (Wednesday, Aug. 21) at Crooners: Voyage À Paris with Maria Jette. Avec Mary Jo Gothmann at the piano, the playful and elegant soprano will sing a program of songs from France, in French, by Gounod, Massenet, Poulenc, and two talented women, Pauline Viardot and Germaine Tailleferre. Jette spent several weeks this summer studying French, so this will be a special treat. Gothmann will play some piano solos and the evening will end in a sexy bit of cabaret. In the Dunsmore Room. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7:30. FMI and tickets ($20).
Thursday at the Walker: Terrace Thursday. This will be the Walker’s final free rooftop party of the summer (already? Noooo!) so let’s make the most of it. The evening will include performances at 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 by Arena Dances led by Mathew Janczewski, art-making with La Luchadora and Women’s Woodshops, films from the Walker’s collection screening in the Garden Terrace Room, and music by DJ Rowsheen. In the Garden Terrace Room and on the terraces. 6-10 p.m. Free.
Thursday through Sunday at the Southern: “Interlace: A Contemporary Dance Performance.” All-women casts perform contemporary dance works by women choreographers. Berit Ahlgren was a founding member of TU Dance and studied Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement language in Tel Aviv. (Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company has performed at Northrop.) Elena Hollenhorst is studying Gaga and other movement techniques. They will present “When We Met Under the Juniper Tree” and “At Least, At Last,” exploring change, regeneration, and gender-based violence. 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. FMI and tickets ($24-12; Artshare members free). Also 2 p.m. Saturday, pay what you can.
Starts Friday at the Trylon: “Fantastic Planet” (La Planete Sauvage). The Trylon’s summer-long celebration in honor of the moon landing’s 50th anniversary is coming to an end (along with summer itself – waahhh!). The second-to-last film in its “Magnificent Desolation” series is a sci-fi milestone Time Out dubbed one of the 10 best psychedelic animated movies. It won a special grand prize at Cannes in 1973. French with English subtitles. FMI and tickets ($8).