Society problems

A mixed-race Filipino filmmaker adrift over her identity in American society: Melissa Leilani Larson’s Mestiza, or Mixed, set to premiere at Plan-B Theater June 9-19

In Melissa Leilani Larson’s new play Mestiza, Or Mixed, 30-something Lark Timon is a struggling filmmaker hoping to make a big breakthrough with one of her six screenplays. Lark, who identifies as a mixed Filipino woman, thinks her storyline set in the American West is a safe bet. Lark describes his female protagonist as Reyna, a Spanish Filipina – a mixed race woman – who finds herself in an unhappy arranged marriage with an older wealthy Spaniard. In Lark’s script, his mestizo saves enough money to escape to California and open a successful hotel.

The problem is that nobody buys him: his mother, his sister, his brother, his current love (Alex, an Asian woman from a wealthy family) or the famous Filipino director and director. Lark stubbornly clings to the pretentiousness of her movie idea because it reminds her how much she enjoyed watching Westerns with her father. He was a Filipino who came to the United States hoping to find his own part of the American dream. Yet he recently separated from the family without explaining to Lark’s mother, who is white and works at a nearby university, his reasons.

Melissa Leilani Larson.

But Lark’s creative block has deeper roots. In a conversation with Alex, his girlfriend, Lark says, “Being a Filipino in the Philippines is——I have no idea. I’ve never been there. But being a Filipino here is weird. Lark laments that people never seem to know how to categorize her. Alex replies, “Because everyone has to be categorized?” The rhetorical question drives the play’s narrative with illuminating results.

Mestiza, Or Mixed, de Larson, award-winning Utah playwright and screenwriter, will have his world premiere in a Plan-B Theater production, directed by Jerry Rapier, which runs June 9-19 at the Studio Theater at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts . Notably, the production will feature the first majority Filipino cast in Utah theater history.

In an interview with The Utah Review, Larson, who has amassed a prodigious and distinguished portfolio as a writer, said, “I finally own my identity as a Filipino American, which is the opposite of Lark in the room.” In fact, Larson’s family line overturns Lark’s background, as shown in the play. Born in Hawaii, Larson’s mother is Filipino and her father is Swedish and English. The family moved to Utah when Larson was 12. Three years ago, in a Dramatist Guild interview with Kathleen Cahill, Larson said, “I feel in and out of suburban white America…I’m trying to own my culture more. People asked me if I’m Native American, if I’m Polynesian or Tongan. I am the only Filipino writer in Salt Lake and I feel the need to find the Filipino in me. It’s something I’m working on. Larson recalls his early years in Hawaii. “There were all kinds of little browns: Samoans, Hawaiians, Tahitians, Chinese, Japanese and mestizos. And we played beautifully together.

In the 2020 U.S. Census, 4.1 million Asian Americans identified as Asian in combination with another racial group, which percentage-wise has more than halved in 20 years. And, the percentage of racially mixed Asians among all Asians will continue to rise, as nearly 30% of Asian Americans are married. Incidentally, Filipinos are the third largest ethnic group (4.2 million) of the Asian American population, which topped 24 million in the last census.

More significant are the ocean and map symbols in the piece, which Larson elegantly weaves into Lark’s story. Many scholars have written about the ocean world and the tremendous history of geographic migrations and population distribution that fostered various religious practices, art, food, and culture across the civilizations of China and the United States. East Asia, as well as India, South Asia and the Pacific Islands. nations. Among the earliest Austronesian speakers, the Malayo-Polynesians first settled in Madagascar, then spread eastward into the Pacific Ocean territories, eventually covering half the earth. Long before colonial powers appeared in ocean trade, there was a long history of long-distance trade between the Native American peoples and the Polynesians. Namely: Appropriate credit goes here for products such as sweet potato or coconut. In Indonesia as well as the Philippines, the practices of Islam were influenced by changes that represented the pre-Islamic cultures of these Southeast Asian countries, including a greater emphasis on gender equity. Filipinos, along with the Chinese, were among the first Asian immigrants to the United States. Coincidentally, there are records indicating that Filipino merchant seamen were in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War.

Joy Asiado (as Lark). Mestiza, or Mixed, by Melissa Leilani Larson.

The stories of Ocean World are as intriguing as they are fascinating, especially to appreciate the emotional and cultural dynamics that appear in families such as those of Lark, his siblings and his girlfriend. What stands out is that Lark has yet to discover and appreciate just how rich his own Filipino culture is with compelling stories. Lark’s creative crisis marks the central questions that Larson explores in the play and the spectrum of stories that evolve and refine the American narrative and the implications for the future, particularly with regard to racial boundaries and Asian American identity. .

Thus, the piece is intensely situated in its actuality. While Lark seems to be struggling to gain momentum in her creative endeavors, her younger sister, Ava, rises through the career ladder in her marketing business and has a relationship with a white man. Lark’s brother, Eddie, is now a baker and sous chef after alcoholism derailed his professional baseball career. Ava is sometimes confused with white. Lark’s two siblings also come out as mixed Filipinos. Carrie, Lark’s mother, is a fierce protector of her children, but fears that Lark will never find her own path to financial independence due to massive student debt. Meanwhile, the mystery of the father’s disappearance is never revealed.

Alex, Lark’s girlfriend, is confident about her own Asian identity, which is reflected in her creative energy as a poet and social activist. When Lark tells her that she’s hesitant to even call herself Asian or that she doesn’t often feel like a Filipino, Alex tells her, unflinchingly, “I’m saying that from a place of love——You’re basically the girl whitest brunette I know.” Alex warns Lark that she will fail if she makes movies that have easy answers or won’t be taken seriously. As for privilege, Lark says Alex doesn’t never has to worry about money because of her wealthy family, but Alex then reminds Lark that she only goes Asian and Filipino when it’s useful and convenient, indeed Lark is apathetically drifting around the vast ocean world. , not knowing which culture to embrace or anchor, let alone how to truly express themselves in terms of their own origins, heritage and ethnicity.

The cast includes Joy Asiado, Jayna Balzer, Lily Hye Soo Dixon, April Fossen and Carlos Nobleza Posas. The production team includes Emma Belnap (lighting), Iris Salazar (set), Cheryl Ann Cluff (sound), Arika Schockmel (props) and Aaron Swenson (costumes). Other members of the company include intimacy director Kimi Handa Brown. and COVID-19 Security Officer Kallie Filanda. The production. The stage is managed by David Knoell, with performing art by Avery Franklin and set construction is handled by electrician Sydney Shoell.

Performances will take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., as well as matinees at 4 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. The production will also be available for video-on-demand streaming from June 15-19. For more information on ticketing, streaming, and COVID-19 safety policies, see the Plan-B Theater website.