Before the opening night performance of the all-Asian American Crimes of the Heart at East West Players last Wednesday, Artistic Director Tim Dang gave a curtain speech that included a warning: the play would contain "mature situations and language"—at which point I almost burst out into uncontrollable laughter. After EWP's last show—my stage adaptation of Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin—sent old Asian ladies fleeing from the theater because of the graphic text, extreme violence, and full-frontal nudity, was a warning for Beth Henley's relatively tame Pulitzer Prize-winner really all that necessary? I mean, from what I had remembered, the three sisters in the play are super dysfunctional, sure, but I don't think anyone gets fisted.
Anyway, opening night was a reunion of sorts for the cast of Mysterious Skin, who had previously vowed endless love and devotion to one another and who gathered to see Skin's Elizabeth Liang appear on the EWP stage once again, this time as Lenny in Crimes.
While the 30-year-old text is rather chatty and clocks in at 130 minutes (this was before Attention Deficit Disorder became America's #1 phantom illness, after all), director Leslie Ishii keeps the pace brisk and her Asians-in-South take is fresh (and complemented by a handy timeline in the theater lobby). The performances—all of them—are stellar and deeply funny. But special mad props, of course, go to Elizabeth Liang, who made me cry like a little bitch several times during the course of the play.
In an age when female playwrights are getting the shaft, kudos to Beth Henley for staying afloat after all these years and kudos to a play that provides powerhouse roles for women.
Here's an interesting Asia Pacific Arts interview with director Leslie Ishii:
Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley runs through December 5, 2010, at East West Players in Los Angeles.