GenerAsians can relate to witty and hilarious "S.A.M. I Am"

By Yayoi Lena Winfrey
for the NW Asian Weekly

Talk about Asian American angst! Saturday night's production of "S.A.M. I Am" brought out Seattle's collection of young "generAsian" professionals dressed in their disposable-income best. Although the audience laughed politely at all the right places, at times they seemed to be as uptight as some of the characters appearing in this romantic comedy presented by ReAct (Repertory Actors Theatre). Actually, the word a friend used was "comatose." Or maybe the play just hit too close to home.

You'd better pay attention here! Acronyms are important and you could be quizzed on your political correctness later.

John (Joseph S. Yang) is a S.A.M. --single Asian male -- with a strong appetite for commitment and a weak heart for Jackie (Colleen Parker), his cousin Betty's (Kathy Hsieh) Eurasian roommate. While Betty, being a typically overachieving J.A. (Japanese American), finishes her thesis, Jackie climbs the corporate ladder of television broadcasting. As she types the final word of her dissertation, Betty is suddenly overcome by the realization that life has passed her by while she wallowed in the slow lane of postgraduate studies. Meanwhile, Jackie, who dates only S.W.M.'s (single white males) who wear Armani suits and drive Porsches, has fooled herself into believing that she's looking for a real man of depth.

As the manager of an Italian eatery, John supervises his brain-dead roommate Lohman (Tony Lee), who busses tables so ineptly that he can't differentiate clean flatware from the dirty ones without verbal Post-It Notes. As dumb as he is, the procession of blonde bimbos Lohman sexes are even dumber. With a decided preference for S.W.F.'s --single white females -- Lohman never even entertains the thought of dating another A.A. (Asian American) until the fateful day when he finds himself on the other end of a phone-sex conversation with a bored Betty. The result is a date for a Jackie Chan flick. Behaving as if they're the only two fans who ever made the martial arts star rich, Lohman and Betty talk about their adulation for Chan in overexcited and overacted voices.

Meanwhile, John is beside himself trying to get next to Jackie, who quotes Sam Shepard and scans the personal ads for anyone who might be the thespian/screenwriter's twin. One gut-busting scene has us privy to a telephone dialogue between a trying-hard-to-impress Jackie and her potential date (Roy Stanton) lying about his lifestyle. While he brags about being an attorney ("not a trail lawyer; I'm not that stupid"), we see the ill-postured slob dressed like a punk rocker. Offensively requesting Jackie to wear a "Kuh-moh-nah" while giving him a body massage, the sinophile waxes his lust for "oh-ree-ent-als." Poor Jackie, desperate to have the "white boy" of her yuppie dreams, plays along with the Southeast Asian war vet -- but just for a while.

At Betty's suggestion, John begins putting to paper his melancholic musings about the object of his desire, Jackie, and sending them to her anonymously. Before long, his pain-wracked writing replete with wretched, unrequited longing (titled "Blue Skies Over Burbank") ends up in the hands of an overzealous Rolling Stone magazine editor (T.J. Langley). Thanks to the world of media blitz, suffering white males everywhere find their hero in a man who addressed their unique issue of "angst about nothing." Believing that John, the S.A.M., is really Nick Strathbourne, the S.W.M., they make him an unseen cult figure. In time, John's alter ego sports an Armani suit while wheeling around town in his new Porsche.

Developed in a workshop with the David Henry Hwang Writer's Institute, "S.A.M. I Am" was penned by the late Garrett H. Omata in 1995. Tragically, the young author will never know the long-term effects his tale of modern romance may have on generAsians to come. Omat's writing cracks and pops with wit and witticisms. The laughter, like the last stages of labor, are a minute apart. In fact, the pacing is so kinetic that if an audience member in front of you coughs, you could miss something.

Comedy aside, though, some serious answers to some serious questions need to be addressed here. At the end of the play, when John decides to reveal his Asian American identity to his unsuspecting fans, we're disappointed by his apathetic attitude. Instead of wearing his ethnic heritage proudly, John mumbles about not wanting to be reminded on a daily basis that he's Japanese. Boo!

There are also a few impossible-to-digest scenes. Far too many characters coveniently knock on doors without calling first. With all the telephones appearing on stage, these scenarios seem contrived. One difficult to swallow circumstance has John accompanying the blonde bombshell as she bursts in on Lohman at Betty's place. Demanding that he come back to her, she good-naturedly retreats when Lohman admits it's Betty's body that cemented his decision, our advanced-degree, grad-school grad doesn't even flinch. Further, as Lohman carries Betty off into the sunset of her bedroom, the platinum-tressed chick with the two digit IQ suddenly transforms into an articulate, mature woman who begins to lecture John about the importance of being earnest!

Still, this production boasts a lot of feel-good jokes. The scene in which Betty and Jackie read personal ads out loud is belly-aching funny. The best line appears in a call to a dateline telephone service when the recorded voice says, "If you're not using a touch-tone, then you are either too old or too poor to use our service."

The sound effects, which are particularly good, demand absolutely perfect timing -- like when the fax machine comes on because Jackie took too long to answer her phone.

Overall, the actors show strong performances. The whiny Jackie and slap-my-forehead-can-I-be-that-freakin'-stupid Lohman are particularly convincing.

Whether it's because Chinese American actors are playing Japanese American characters, or whether it was intentionally and cleverly done, the mispronunciation of Japanese words adds a realistic flavor to these very American generAsians...right down to their angst!

"S.A.M. I Am" plays now through Nov. 21 at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, 104 17th Ave S., in Seattle. For tickets, showtimes and prices, call (206)364-3283.


November 20, 1999


© 1999 Northwest Asian Weekly. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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