Monday, December 7, 2015

Purple Cloud - Mu Performing Arts

Purple Cloud by Jessica Huang, now playing at Mixed Blood Theatre, is the 49th world premiere presented by Mu Performing Arts! By the end of this, Mu's 24th season, they will have logged 50 world premieres with their production of Tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (A Filipino) Hulk Hogan. This is an impressive roster for a small theater company in the Midwest. But it's also a necessity, since the history of Asian American theater in the US only dates back 50 years.

With Purple Cloud, Mu adds to the relatively young canon of theater by and about Asian Americans. In this case, the main character is "hapa," a name derived from the Hawaiian word for "mixed." At 18, she wants to know more about her family heritage, but her widowed father doesn't want to talk about the history of the Huang family. Adopting the Chinese name given to her by her grandfather in a mysterious letter, Hapa Girl sets out to learn about her ancestors.

Hapa Girl and her father (Meghan Kreidler and Rich Remedios).
Photo: Keri Pickett.
Guided by four jade pieces embodied by Jeannie Lander, Kylee Brinkman, Stephanie Bertumen,and Audrey Park, Hapa Girl and the audience learn about Grandfather Lee's journey from Shanghai and Lee's son (Hapa Girl's father), and their differing ways of dealing with their cultural identities.

Under Randy Reyes' direction, the four jade pieces become characters in the Huang family saga, from the ancient origin story of the clan to Lee's final journey home. Simple set pieces and minor costume changes create amazing transformations of scene and character.

Grandfather Lee with the four jade pieces (from left):
Stephanie Bertumen, Jeannie Lander, Alex Galick,
Audrey Park, and Kylee Brinkman. Photo: Keri Pickett.

I found the story quite educational regarding the Asian American experience, but more importantly, a very moving story about three generations of this particular family. Meghan Kreidler is believably surly as the rebellious teenage Hapa Girl, and Rich Remedios touching as her father. Portraying Lee at ages from preteen to old age, Alex Galick is wonderful at showing the patriarch's journey from China and his subsequent struggles to make a place for himself and his family in America.

Purple Cloud is a fascinating look at a family's multiracial identity, beautifully told.

For more background on the play, check out this KARE 11 interview with director Reyes and playwright Huang.

And check out the atmospheric trailer!