This year I experienced two moments when the work of a local artist transformed the way I view the world.
In May, Theater Mu and Pangea World Theater hosted the National Asian American Theater Conference. At the opening showcase, amid the raucous laughter at Sun Mee Chomet's satire on the plight of Asian American actresses, I experienced my first epiphany. Even I, an Asian American, could not quite appreciate the artistry of Asian American performers until I saw them before an audience of their peers. Of course, the underestimation of talent was at the heart of Chomet's satire.
Later, conference members attended After a Hundred Years at the Guthrie. Supposedly about Cambodia, the play focused on the love triangle of three white Americans while keeping the three Cambodian characters in the background. Despite this ethnocentric slant, Chomet's delicate and layered performance lifted her servant woman to a three-dimensionality the writing did not quite grant her.
This fall Chomet's Asiamnesia had its well-received debut at Mu along with May Lee's Sia(b). Through her own writing, Chomet demonstrated the versatility and depth of her acting talents, from a hilarious New York casting agent to her imperious Anna Mae Wong to her intimate, wry version of Hamlet's monologue.
This winter Chomet will be a lead in the Guthrie's Two Gentleman of Verona. Go see her performance.
My second epiphany occurred at the Loft's release party for Nation of Immigrants?, a CD of spoken-word performances by minority artists in Minnesota, organized by Thien-bao Thuc Phi. The crowd that overflowed the auditorium represented a whole new multiracial, multiethnic literary community. Phi has transformed the local literary landscape, as coordinator for the Loft's spoken-word Equilibrium series and through his own brilliant poetry. He's nationally known as a spoken-word slam champion; poems of his, like "Reverse Racism" or "Race" (chosen by Billy Collins for the Best American Poetry series), already possess the status of classics.
This May, Phi gave a landmark performance at Mu as a Korean adoptee and would-be hip-hop artist in Juliana Pegues's Q & A. The way he embodied Pegues's brilliant monologue referencing the events at Virginia Tech was a tour de force, and his portrayal marked a whole new stage of his abilities as a performer.
This fall Phi completed his first manuscript of poetry. I have no doubt it will become an important work in the new generation of writers formed by hip hop and spoken word.