Comedy and great acting saves this new play, despite a twist to dramatic tragedy at the end | Theater Review by Joanne Rhim Lee (Fall 2019 issue)
Hot Asian Doctor Husband by Leah Nanako Winkler
Mixed Blood Theatre, Minneapolis/Theater Mu Production ~ August 16 through September 1, 2019
The title of Leah Nanako Winkler’s new work, which had a limited run this fall at the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis, is a winking reference to what a certain segment of the female Asian population is purportedly looking for: A “hot Asian doctor husband.” Could this really be true?
As the play opens, Emi, a 20-something half-Asian woman, is breaking up with Colin, her longtime white boyfriend. They have been together for several happy years, so he is completely caught off guard when Emi launches into a long soliloquy about how she wants to “de-colonize her vagina.” When he questions her reasoning, she admits that it is because he is white. Her Japanese mother has just recently passed away in a tragic accident, and she can’t bear the thought of someday having children who might not look Asian. Instead, she wants to meet a “Hot Asian Doctor Husband” so that she can bear unambiguously Asian children.
At this point, most rational people would walk away, but Collin is a Seemingly Perfect (White) Boyfriend, so although he still loves her, he agrees to break up so that she can focus on her identity issues. To do this, Emi turns to her best friend, Leonard, who it seems will drop anything to be a shoulder for her to cry on.
Leonard is a great friend, but he clearly has some issues of his own. His girlfriend-of-the-month Veronica is lovely —- open, honest, not to mention beautiful, but he is keeping her at an arm’s distance, and doesn’t ask her any questions about herself, such what she does for a living, or where she is from. Veronica longs to know more about Leonard and take their relationship deeper, but she is so enamored with him that she is willing to take whatever she can get. Newcomer Danielle Troiano imbues Veronica with freshness and vulnerability, and one wonders why Leonard cannot see what an amazing catch she is. Mikell Sapp is funny and endlessly charming as Leonard, so he somehow gets a pass.
Newly single and laser focused on her goal, Emi promptly goes out and meets a Hot Asian Doctor who she hopes will become her husband someday. As the man of her dreams, Eric Sharp commands the stage, speaking in a dreamy baritone voice and moving with the confidence and swagger of a man who knows his stock is high. In a karaoke bar, he sings and dances with aplomb, covering every inch of the stage with his pseudo-sexy moves. The million-dollar question is, would he hold the same status in Emi’s eyes if he were not a doctor? Probably not. But the fact that he wears a white lab coat and a stethoscope makes her go weak in the knees. She is smitten, and so are we, because of Sharp’s campy performance.
Meanwhile, Collin is still pining away for Emi, the love of his life. In plaid flannel shirts and jeans, strumming a guitar and singing sad songs about his broken heart, he is the quintessential Seemingly Perfect (White) Ex-Boyfriend. Boyishly handsome Damian Leverett plays it straight as Collin, and we cannot help but root for him, even if he is a little milquetoast.
Halfway through the play, things are going along swimmingly, with the laughs coming a mile a minute. However, at this point the tone of the play takes a sudden shift. Emi learns that the Hot Asian Doctor Husband is not what he seemed, and she is forced by Leonard to confront her mother’s recent death and why it caused her to break up with Collin and seek out a stereotyped ideal.
As Emi, Meghan Kreidler tackles the transition well, moving from comedically pathetic to frighteningly depressed, even summoning her dead mother to ask for guidance. As her ghost mother, Theater Mu veteran actor Sun Mee Chomet makes a short but powerful cameo, basically giving Emi the smackdown that she needs.
The playwright seems to have lost her way in this last act, leaving the audience feeling confused and unsatisfied. What began as a light, funny commentary on ethnic identity and interracial relationships morphs into a dark statement about death, with dark props and monologues about “standing between love and death.” Like Emi, Hot Asian Doctor Husband seems to be suffering from an identity crisis, and could use a rewrite.