Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America returns to Theater for the New City (TNC) June 2 to 18 to present the New York premiere of “410[GONE]” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, the prize-winning author of “The World of Extreme Happiness” (Manhattan Theater Club, 2015). The dark and dazzling play uses comedy, Chinese mythology and cyber-imagery to explore how we release loved ones when they are gone. The play will be acted in English with Chinese subtitles. Chongren Fan directs; he staged Yangtze’s critically-applauded production of “Behind the Mask — a Play” by Chinese authors Feng BaiMing and Huang WeiRuo at TNC in 2015.
Where do we go when we die? In Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s dark and dazzling play, a boy named Seventeen has committed suicide and wanders into the Chinese Land of the Dead, a dominion ruled by Goddess of Mercy and Monkey King. His elder sister, Twenty-One, has been reliving the night of the suicide in order to find her lost brother. Between the lines of life and death, the siblings reflect on identity and explore heritage, but in the end, they must face the ultimate question: if there is no love without pain, what does it mean to love?
The play combines references to Chinese mythology and Chinese Opera with a wide variety of pop culture references, including the Dance Dance Revolution arcade game and pachinko arcades. The title, “410[GONE],” refers to the http 410 status error code, “Gone,” which indicates that the requested resource has been intentionally removed and will not be available again. We’re offered a multicultural take on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, with death portrayed as something of a video game. Seventeen is moving through a digitally-enanced version of the traditional Chinese underworld, encountering the Goddess of Mercy and the Monkey God, who struggle to process the impact this intruder has in their ordered world. Meanwhile, his sister is searching for a meaningful solution to the mystery of his death. After a series of hilarious events between the lands of the living and the dead, Twenty-One finally meets Seventeen again only to realize she has to set him free.
When the play debuted at Crowded Fire Theatre in San Francisco in 2013, Hyphen Magazine, an Asian American cultural and arts publication, wrote, “410[GONE] re-organizes and layers familiar Asian American dramatic elements (traditional folk elements, etc.) and typical American experiences (fast food, etc.) to expose, but never define, Twenty-One’s grief, Seventeen’s spiritual dilemma, and a relationship between a brother and sister… Frances’ bricolage of imagery creates a cultural frame that is so emotionally accurate one forgets its critical role in creating the experience…If you cry at this play, don’t worry. It’s just because it hurts so good.” Subsequently, it was produced in 2015 at Brown University, the playwright’s alma mater, where she began the play in 2005 as an independent study project that was mentored by Paula Vogel. At the time, the piece was titled “The Other Side of the Closet.” This is the play’s third prodution and its New York debut.
The actors are Carolina Do, Edgar Eguia, Meilin Gray, Gerardo Pelati and Roger Yeh. Scenic, costume and sound design are by Joseph Wolfslau. Lighting design is by Yi-Chung Chen.
Playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig is author of “The World of Extreme Happiness,” which was a finalist for Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2014-15 and was produced by Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center in 2015. Her plays have also been produced at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre of Great Britain, the Goodman Theatre, Trafalgar Studios 2 [West End] and others. She has received the Wasserstein Prize, the Yale Drama Series Award, an Edinburgh Fringe First Award, the David A. Callichio Award and the Keene Prize for Literature. She holds an MFA in Writing from the James A. Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin, a BA in Sociology from Brown, and a certificate in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Cowhig was born in Philadelphia and raised in Northern Virginia, Okinawa, Taipei and Beijing. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Playwriting at UC Santa Barbara.
Director Chongren Fan’s last production for Yangtze Rep, “Behind the Mask, a Play” by Chinese authors Feng BaiMing and Huang WeiRuo, was a dark comedy in which an ancient myth about blood and honor reveals the secret life of a Chinese theater troupe. Blogcritic Carole De Tosti wrote, “‘Behind the Mask’ is an intriguing view of China’s past and present. It reveals how the vehicle of drama can preserve and innovate, and meld history with currency. The production uplifts ancient cultural myths, distills the key principles, and incorporates these ideas with those of popular culture using humor. This premiere, seen for the first time in the U.S. and performed in Mandarin Chinese, is possible in the hands of an adept director, who has cleverly adapted the script and inspired the skilled actors. Coupled with the music and lighting design, ‘Behind the Mask’ works.”
Most recently he directed “Lost in Shanghai” by playwright/composer Angel Lam at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and the Chinese premiere of “Stones in His Pockets” by Marie Jones (Olivier Award Best Comedy) at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. He was a resident artist at Mabou Mines, a Jonathan Alper Directing Fellow at Manhattan Theatre Club, and a Resident Director at the Flea Theater under its founding Artistic Director, Jim Simpson. He is also a video programmer for live performances. Recently he programmed projections for the North American Tour of Disney’s “Aladdin.” He is a member of IATSE and an associate of SDC. He earned an MFA from Sarah Lawrence. (www.chongrenfan.com)
This production is made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Legislature. It is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with City Council.