“Dragon Skin” premiered at the 2018 “Eight Tens @ 8” play festival at the Actors’ Theatre in Santa Cruz, CA. The play covers over 50 years of my life, traversing the hazards of childhood, the longing to be a part of (white) America, the loss of Chinese heritage and culture, and the resurgence and strengthening of my personal and cultural identity after traveling to China. Critic Steve Palopoli of the Santa Cruz Good Times wrote: “Also can’t-miss…is Steve “Spike” Wong’s “Dragon Skin,” a brilliantly staged one-man show which will challenge your conception of what a 10-minute play can be.” Critic Philip Pearce of Performing Arts Monterey Bay wrote that “the play triumphs both visually and thematically. The closing moments of [Wong’s] triumphant epiphany, surrounded by the beat of Asian drums and a Center Stage framed in scarlet Asian banners, are the most dramatic and visually beautiful of the 2018 Festival. “
“Dragon Skin” is an autobiographical short play that had its genesis in my childhood. The myth of Asians as the “model minority” had not yet solidified when I was a little child; the racism behind the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943) was still significant and present in the lives of all Chinese Americans. Throughout their growing up years, many Chinese Americans wished no more than to be accepted as fully American, while still straddling the line of living in two cultures, one in the home and one outside. The same difficulty is present in the story of all immigrants to America, at one time or another. Still, the devastating power and specific taint of the Chinese Exclusion Act gave many Americans the excuse to hold suspicious and racist attitudes against Chinese in particular.“Dragon Skin” subsequently played at The Marsh Theater in San Francisco in August, 2018. I’m certain that at one of the shows, half of the audience was composed of my many cousins and aunties from SF.
Directed by Nat Robinson. “Driving Lesson” was also performed in May 2018 at the Short+Sweet Play Festival in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Jana Marcus Photograpy / http://www.janamarcus.com)
“Driving Lesson” came about at the confluence of two things: my realization of all the goofy things I say about driving to teach my kids something, and divorce. Both are hard. Neither is funny. And so writing a dramedy combining the two made sense, especially since both of these things have happened in my life, although long enough ago to be considered in a distant past sort of way. For my own kids, I’m sure that “Driving Lesson” had several flashbacks for them, and as for the divorce part…well, I needed to be honest, and I was. It was uncomfortable as hell watching it being performed so strongly by Kip and Conall, because although the audience didn’t quite know it all the time, I was baring my soul and my guilt. I thought having it performed would be a little like scratching an itch, but it was more like tearing off scabs. Eventually, regarding my catharsis, as Dad tells his son Nick in the play, “it’s better to get there slowly than to not get there quickly.”
“Driving Lesson” continued its journey by being selected for the Short+Sweet Play Festival in Sydney, Australia, in May 2018. I didn’t fly Down Under to see it; instead, I went to Bulgaria for some folk dancing.
COUNTESS BECOMES HER
For a while, I knew several people who were very and completely passionate about tracing their history and heritage on one of those genealogy sites. When my wife delved into her family ancestry with gusto, I joked with her that “You’re going to find yourself related to someone from the Mayflower, someone who built a famous edifice, someone who signed the Magna Carta, Eric the Red, President Washington, or some royal family member like Count Hoochabodywig!” Count? Countess? What if…what if all of it is made up by internet nerds who can type and invent faster than their hapless or unknowing clients who have just made contact? And what if you turn out to be the Countess? Thus, I wrote a comedy of invention, imagination, hoodwinking, and, unexpectedly, hope.
“Kanreki Blues,” written by Lisa Hadley, was performed at the 2015 Eight Tens @ 8 Play Festival in Santa Cruz, CA. Kanreki is a Japanese recognition of “your life has completed a circle,” and in the Japanese calendar of years, that is traditionally at 60 years. This play, deftly written by Ms. Hadley, had the unusual appearance of three different cultures colliding at this point for one modern and almost hapless main character: Chinese, Japanese, and American. The director only asked me one question while talking to me about my role as a reconstituted Sun Tzu: do you have any Chinese costumes? Oh yeah, I said, what would you like? We decided on this reproduction of a Beijing opera robe.
Several years later, in 2007, hoping to effect a quantum leap in area stage theater, I decided to direct “Rashomon” at Los Gatos High School. It took ten months of preparation. I cast actors in January for an October show date. We set to work. Kariushi Kai, a traditional Okinawan music group, and Shinsho Mugen Daiko, a Watsonville-based taiko drum group led by Ikuyo Conant, performed the opening music. Fight sequences were choreographed with the help and advice of Larry Lam and his teachers at Studio Kicks. We sold out four of five shows, in a 425-seat theater. And again, lives changed.
I feel very strongly about “Rashomon.” In many ways, it is an extremely difficult play to stage well, and very easy to stage poorly and to produce a caricature of its culture, story, and philosophy. I had a copy of this play on my nightstand for over three years, hoping that it would show up somewhere. That’s when Cabrillo College announced auditions, and I knew I would do anything in this show, but the role that spoke to me, clearly, nightly, was the lead male, Tajomaru. I trained hard for several months for the audition. I got the call from director Wilma Marcus-Chandler, and after her brilliant production, literally, my life changed.