I don’t know how to say this in any other way: if you only spend money on theatre once, do it on Model American, a new play by Jason Kim up here at Williamstown. The play moves with Gabriel, a Colombian immigrant to the United States after being kicked out of his home for being gay, and what it means to be, stay, and keep, find, or lose yourself in America. But this play isn’t about Gabriel. It isn’t even, arguably, about immigration. In fact, throughout the entire play, the word “immigrant” is never mentioned, not once. But there is so much to it – race, language, the friendship between a Korean immigrant and Columbian immigrant sitting in a shelter watching Price is Right. There is the promise of what America can do for the people who come to it, new, bright eyes, or squinting under that supposedly perpetually shining sun on green grass, the promise of what it means to build bonds in this country only to find that rising up through the ranks might mean forfeiting them. Sitting in the audience the first time, before we started working on deck crew, I was struck by how quickly the play became about me, even though there was none of my specific culture or background in it.
I thought about my mother, at age eight, riding on an airplane with her entire Taiwanese family, the only English word she knew “orange juice” and ordering orange juice for their family of six over and over again, with no clue how to order food, because that’s when her understanding of English began. I thought about my father, who never really talks about his college experience here in Massachusetts, probably because of the same reason Jae Won decides to return to Korea, because of the blatant racism that occurs as a means of “making fun” or “teasing,” because “China man” and “eating dogs” are things that are meant to be funny, endearing, not seriously offensive. I thought of myself, how my accent changed, how it adapted so quickly in my first year and a half here to being completely assimilated, fluent, not only in the language (because I was already fluent) but in the culture, society, and lingo of being Asian American, not Asian living in America. I thought about myself, staring at the face of my thirteen year old presence, denying its presence in myself, wanting to be one hundred percent here, and not back home in Hong Kong. To think of all the people who come to this country and decide to stop speaking their home. Not just the language, but the entirety of what home means. I don’t want to give a synopsis of the play, because that’s beside the point. I’m not a reviewer. If you want a review, you can read one here.
But for anyone who has any moment in the next week to make a day trip here to Williamstown, this is a play worth spending time, effort, money, and thought on. If I had my way, everyone I’ve ever loved, hated, or disagreed with would see this play. I remember the first time I wrote a story about my family my senior year of high school, and a girl next to me turned to me after I read it out loud and said, “gosh, Stefani, can you stop writing about Asian stuff?” and then laughed. I laughed, too. I want her to see this too. To think about what it means to not only propel your own erasure of identity, culture, or self, but what it means to be a white person in America and propel that sense of desire to erase in others. Or what it means to have come from somewhere other than this place, which is all of us. This place was built on immigrants, who come from the bottom up and perhaps forget, when they get to the top, what it means to have started at all. This play will make its way elsewhere, so see it now, while you can. See it now, because you can. It has reminded me of why art is important, why theatre is live, and alive, and what it means to be doing work that is going to take the world somewhere else.