Asian actors take comic looks at redneck culture


If you were at an International District restaurant this past week and heard a group of young Asian Americans at the next table speaking in pure Dallas-Fort Worth dialect, chances are your neighbors were from ReAct.

ReAct (Repertory Actors Workshop) opens "Laundry and Bourbon," a double bill of Texas one-acts, Thursday.

"Once the actors get into those accents it's not always easy to get out of them," says ReAct director David Hsieh. "and it can get to be pretty amusing to talk that way when you go to a bar or a restaurant after rehearsal to relax."

"The cast has worked hard on sounding like Texans. They've watched movies like 'Hud' and 'Wyatt Earp' and 'The Last Picture Show' and 'Giant.' We've had a dialect coach."

"Laundry and Bourbon," the first one-act on the ReAct bill, has a cast of three women. "Lone Star," the second play, features three men. Both shows are slices of small-town redneck Caucasian life by James McLure. They are not obvious choices for production by a troupe of urban Asian Americans.

"But you know," says Hsieh, "sometimes the surprises can be illuminating. Like when the Vietnam veteran and his brother are talking about 'gooks.' Or when the women are talking about 'Oriental' games like Chinese checkers and mah jong."

The added twist of racial consciousness in the production reminds Hsieh of experiences he had in Europe in 1983. "I was traveling with a group of people most of whom were not Asian Americans." he says. "Eventually I was just another person, part of the group. But maybe we'd be in a restaurant, say in Germany and something would happen."

"Another tourist would say something, a racial slur, a racial comment, in English, and suddenly the consciousness of race was much sharper because it had been forgotten for awhile."

"I think at first audiences will be thinking, 'Oh, Asian Americans acting small-town Texan parts. How novel.' But then the reality of the characters and their stories takes over. And then, suddenly, you hear something like 'gook.' And it makes an extra-strong impression."

In "Laundry and Bourbon," three young married women in Maynard, Texas, struggle to maintain self-respect and status. Personal appearance, husbands' positions and even long-past high school reputations count. No one is very secure.

In "Lone Star," the men vie. Sexual exploits, wealth and again, high school reputations matter. But the high school stuff - and a once-imposing 1959 pink Thunderbird - are fast losing their significance.

This may all seem very remote from a cosmopolitan Seattle 1994 point of view. But part of Hsieh's and ReAct's mission is to give actors a chance to stretch in unaccustomed directions. "I happen to firmly believe that there just aren't enough jobs for Asians in American theater," Hsieh says. "So whatever opportunites I can create are all to the good."

"At first 'Laundry and Bourbon' and 'Lone Star' seem mostly funny, amusing," Hsieh says. "But as you work with them, you realize that McLure isn't just making fun of his characters. And we are not just making fun of them either."

"McLure's people are trapped in stereotypes - what it is to be a man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a brother, a friend. And of course, we're interested in that larger issue: being trapped in stereotypes."

September 2, 1994


Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star. Two one-act comedies by James McLure. A ReAct (Repertory Actors Workshop) production at the Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S. Opens Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. Runs through Sept. 25. Tickets $6-$10, $1 off with canned food donation for Northwest Harvest food bank presented at box office; 364-3283.

© 1994 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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