Saturday, September 03, 2011

Not about Sisters

Sun Sisters by Vasanti Saxena. Company of Angels at The Alexandria Hotel. 9/2/11.

It's been years since I've seen something at Company of Angels. They're one of those companies I trust to do solid, interesting new work that I never quite get myself there to see. I am so glad I made it out there last night! I knew Sun Sisters had some kind of queer content, but I had somehow failed to get the message of how interesting and relevant and personal it would feel to me. I went expecting an Asian-American family drama, which it was, but not the intensely personal story of lesbian and queer identities across time that it turned out to be. Even writing about it, I'm totally ambivalent because the thing I want to tell my own friends and community about the play and why it is relevant to them may or may not spoil a dramatic revelation that is central to the plot. I suppose since it closes tonight, I don't have to worry to much about ruining it, but if you have a chance to see it, you should, especially my lesbian, queer, and trans friends.

So instead of describing the plot, I will tell you that the performances are truly excellent. This is a play in which all of the main characters are Asian-American women, and the actors show their skills brilliantly. Momo Yashima as mother and Andrea Lwin as daughter had a beautifully contentious, loving but painful relationship that felt so familiar to me from some of my interactions with my mother, and from my mom's interactions with her mother.

The play takes place now (or maybe the '90s), but also in flashbacks to the 1960s. It explores the mother's hidden past and a lost love played by Jully Lee. I want to go into all the details of gender identity and queer politics that this performance and this story evokes, but perhaps I shouldn't. Suffice it to say, while I would have cast a more butch actor, Lee played it quite sensitively and convincingly. While the queer politics may not be perfect, they feel personal and real in a way that is still unusual in many plays I see. And I loved seeing the overlapping communities within the audience respond to different parts of the story. There were those laughing with recognition at the 1000 Year Egg joke, and those laughing with recognition at the queer jokes. And, to me at least, they both felt lovely and authentic.

So where does the "Sun Sisters" come in if it's not a play about sisters, you ask? Well, it's a reference to a folk tale and multiple possible interpretations of what the story teaches us. I would have liked to see a little more made of this tale, visually, in the production. It's a lovely lens through which to view the show, but maybe it should have been told or alluded to early in the performance as a framing device. Instead, there's an architecture lecture that opens the show and recurs throughout that is quite important but not exactly a compelling hook.

Anyway, if you're looking for a good queer Asian-American play, I highly recommend this one. I'm definitely interested in seeing what Vasanti Saxena does next. If you have a chance to see this production tonight, you should go, but otherwise, I'd like to see this particular play have more of a life. And I'll have to be more vigilant about keeping Company of Angels on my radar.