I was really glad Chloe was in town for one of the most anticipated LA theatre projects of the year, David Henry Hwang's obscure play/musical Soft Power. I had already heard from a number of different "theatre people" that the show was awesome. However, when it was first described to me...I thought OK. This is either going to be horrible or amazing. Talk about a big risk, plot-wise. The first quarter of the show is a play about David Henry Hwang, played by Francis Jue (I seriously loved him in King of the Yees and also in this), meeting with a Chinese film executive Xue Xing (played by the dreamy Conrad Ricamora) about collaborating on China's next big blockbuster. It's 2016, and the two also get the opportunity to go meet the then-running presidential candidate Hilary Clinton at a donor event at Music Center, the very place where you are watching the play in the present moment. The rest of the show is a musical lucid dream structured though the Chinese perception of American media portrayal and politics. Do you understand my reaction better now?
"Democracy has broken my heart."
So yeah, you get to intermission of this show and you think to yourself, what the f&%$ just happened? And not necessarily in a bad way, you've just A) never heard this story before and B) never seen a story presented this way, on a number of levels. As far as production content, the ensemble is incredibly strong, with DHH's trademark kooky-smart comedy style giving everyone a little shining moment. Their dancing was on point, nailing Sam Pinkleton's winning choreography. But that Conrad Ricamora in the role of Xue Xing...now there's a gorgeous man with a gorgeous voice, holy cow. I wrote this down in my notebook numerous times in numerous ways while watching the show. Besides probs being a little young, I think he played the role perfectly <3 Setting the bar for a new play/musical is a huge undertaking and I do believe the performances were very strong across the board.
OK so look, I am a big fan of the Leigh Silverman/DHH ongoing theatre collab. Chinglish is one of my favorite plays and the only show I have seen twice on Broadway. I was a little obsessed for a minute there, with my Jennifer Lim biography project for my Asian America Theatre class. Am I as obsessed with Soft Power? No. BUT, David Henry Hwang really blows the genre out of the water with this unparalleled production. And we need more productions like this, to act as litmus tests so that eventually, we really can transform the American theatre with work that pushes bouandries in this way.
Out of our three visits to the theatre that weekend, Chloe said that Soft Power was her favorite. Each show we watched was so extremely different that I'm not sure I could nail down a favorite, but I did agree that this was the crazy, out-there political show LA theatre needed to step out with this summer. Maybe it didn't need to be done on such a huge budget at one of the state's largest theatre venues, but on the other hand, maybe it did. Maybe the general market needed to see that level of investment so that someday shows as out-there as this one could be the norm. It gives me hope how, based on where we stand in our political climate, that organizations might be more willing to invest in shows as imaginative in content as this one. As the show would testify, unfortunately it takes a lot of money to change the world. Soft Power by David Henry Hwang with music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori ran at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown LA from May 3-June 10th. The show is now currently running at San Francisco's Curran Theatre through July 8th.