Anne Hamilton/Hamilton Dramaturgy

HowlRound Post – Peña and Pamatmat

My Parents Were Tiger People: christopher oscar peña chats about writing race with A. Rey Pamatmat


A. Rey Pamatmat: In the lobby for a production of my play Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them I overheard a woman say, “This play would get done everywhere if the main characters weren’t Asian.” Discussing the same play, a young future theater professional asked, “Why are Kenny and Edith Filipino?” To which I replied, “Why are you white?” And in the year following my apparent need to justify putting Asian-American characters on stage, others did their best to keep Asian actors off stage by casting white actors in yellow-/brownface (The Nightingale, The Orphan of Zhao, and Pippin: A Bollywood Spectacular come to mind).

Imagine my surprise when—upon The Flea’s announcement of my friend christopher oscar peña’s gorgeous play a cautionary tail—I felt compelled to ask why his main characters are Chinese-American. chris is Latino, and his plays feature characters of his own ethnicity in Icarus Burns or of other Latino descent in TINY PEOPLE. All three plays deal with bicultural identity, but in a world that doesn’t seem to want Asians onstage, why would a Latino playwright compose a play with two Chinese-American leads?

christopher oscar peña: Like you, my initial response is: why not? This is America right?