See this show.
Stop reading this review, click this hyperlink, buy a ticket, and see it. Don’t want to go alone? I’ll see it with you. We’ve never met before? Who cares. I’m your new best friend for life Mike Bevel and we will make this happen.
Not Quite: Asian American by Law, Asian Woman by Desire (written and performed by Ada Cheng, directed by Jonald Reyes) is that good.
From the moment Cheng takes the stage, she quickly establishes both authority and intimacy. Over the course of her 53 years, she has lived everywhere from Chicago to Taipei to Eugene, Oregon to some terrible place in Texas. And this brings her to this question: Where is home? Is it where you were born? Is it where you spent the most time? Is it something measured by the length of your absence? Will you recognize it by the intensity of your emotion?
In exploring this concept of home, Cheng tests it against different challenges in her life. Is home where you have to pass a test in order to live there? Can home be a place where you are simultaneously “naturalized” and also labeled an alien? Can you find home in the classroom when your authority as an educator is challenged within the world’s worst Venn diagram, at the intersection of “woman,” “person of color,” and “gay?” (Cheng is incandescently on point when she muses about the way Western culture puts its most valuable assets – in her case, the education of its children – into the hands of foreigners and minorities while also often denying or ignoring those minority voices and their intrinsic value).
Can home be Texas, where an older man salutes you and your girlfriend with a Nazi fist raised to the sun before he spits at you?
Not Quite is a profoundly political piece of theater. Cheng is Taiwanese and a bisexual, and that intersection of identity is what makes her voice so necessary. It’s especially necessary for many white people in the gay community who are only now catching up with the fact that our own minority status doesn’t preclude our own racism. “Home” should be the intersection of community, compassion, and white-hot anger at systems of oppression that harm everyone – even those who seemingly benefit from them.
Cheng is here to tell us a story. We are here to listen. There is a moment when Cheng describes her experiences as a woman of color, teaching a roomful of mostly white college students, almost too comfortable in their privilege. They read newspapers and text with friends in the classroom. They engage in conversations during her lecture time. “Students should not feel too comfortable,” Cheng explains. And she differentiates safe spaces – spaces where students are allowed to fail, and be wrong, and stumble, and get it half right – from comfortable spaces. We can be safe and uncomfortable. In fact, it may be the only way we can ever learn anything.
So, again: see this show. Theater works best when there’s this alchemical exchange: your attention for the artist’s message. Your attention to this woman and this story – at this time, particularly – will be more than repaid.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Not Quite: Asian American by Law, Asian Woman by Desire plays through July 20, 2017 at Pursuit Wine Bar – 1421 H Street NE, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.