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New Play Celebrates LGBT Asian Americans

New Play Celebrates LGBT Asian Americans

I first started working on my play Sun Sisters years ago, and it had readings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. With each reading, I rewrote based on what I heard and the subsequent audience feedback. In 2008, it won East West Players Pacific Century Playwriting Competition. It’s been a long road, and now, in 2011, Sun Sisters is on its feet and running at Company of Angels in Los Angeles.

Sun Sisters is the story of a Chinese-American woman who is called home to take care of her mother, who is in the final stages of a terminal cancer. It is also the story of a lesbian who yearns for her mother’s acceptance, and of a woman from her mother’s past who had to face the pervasive homophobia of the 1960s and 1970s. The intersection of these parallel stories brings to light some of the differences in the LGBT experience today versus not so long ago. Differences that we can’t afford to take for granted.

I was initially unsure of how audiences would react to Sun Sisters because it seems to have two specific and very different audiences—Asian Americans and the LBGT community. How could a play like this appeal to both? Part of this uncertainty comes from my experience in the mid 1990s when an Asian American student organization asked to produce an early play of mine, which was also chock full of lesbian characters. We held auditions and cast student actors, only to discover that many ultimately decided not to be in the play because they didn’t feel comfortable playing lesbians. That stung. And the sting lingered—until we cast for Sun Sisters and several actors specifically requested to audition for the lesbian roles. What a difference 15 years makes!

Now that we’re halfway through the run, I’ve learned not to assume anything about the audience. Older heterosexual couples have told me that now they can better understand their LGBT child’s journey. African American, Latina and Caucasian women have said that Angie, the traditional Chinese mother in Sun Sisters, is just like their own mother. And I’ve been surprised and gratified by just how many audience members belong to both the Asian American and LGBT communities.

Because of the enthusiastic response by Los Angeles audiences, Sun Sisters has just been extended through September 3. This production has brought the play to life in a way that has people asking, “Where’s it going from here?” So now it’s time to reach out to theaters in other cities. If you’re interested in considering Sun Sisters for production in your theater, contact: s.vasantis@gmail.com

For more information and to buy tickets, go to www.companyofangels.org

Vasanti Saxena is a playwright whose work has been produced/developed in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, She strives to give voice to those who are typically unheard—or not heard enough—in theater. Plays include Sun Sisters, Gloria in Translation, Even the Stone and Shift. Her short play Closing Time was selected one of the Best 10-Minute Plays of 2011 and will be published by Smith & Kraus later this year. Vasanti has been a Van Lier Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop and a semi-finalist for both the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and the Princess Grace Award. She is also the recipient of an ARC grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation as well as an Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan commission. Vasanti received her MFA from Columbia University, where she was fortunate enough to study with Romulus Linney.

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