Interview: Playwright Yilong Liu and Director Chay Yew Talk GOOD ENEMY At Minetta Lane Theatre

GOOD ENEMY will also be released as an Audible Original, extending its reach to millions of Audible listeners around the world.

By: Nov. 12, 2022
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Interview: Playwright Yilong Liu and Director Chay Yew Talk GOOD ENEMY At Minetta Lane Theatre
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Audible Theater is presenting the world premiere production of Good Enemy, written by Audible Theater Emerging Playwright Yilong Liu and directed by Obie Award winner Chay Yew.

A father learns that closing the door to his past means shutting his daughter out in Good Enemy, Yilong Liu's haunting and hopeful new play. When Howard (Francis Jue) makes a surprise cross-country trip to visit his college-age, Tik Tok-loving daughter, he's forced to confront the realities of their relationship and the rift between them-a rift caused by Howard's refusal to face memories of his life as a young man in China. In a smart, thrilling story that deftly weaves two generations and two continents amidst sweeping social changes, Good Enemy explores the power of human connections...affirming that no one lives an "ordinary" life, no matter how hard they might try.

GOOD ENEMY's cast features Ron Domingo (The American Pilot, "As The World Turns"), Obie Award winner Francis Jue, Tim Liu ("Nepotism"), Geena Quintos (Soft Power, Emojiland), Alec Silver (Temping), Ryan Spahn (Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow), and Jeena Yi (Network, Somebody's Daughter).

GOOD ENEMY is running now at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane, between MacDougal & 6th Avenue - one block south of W. 3rd Street), Audible's creative home for live performances in New York. This limited engagement runs through Sunday, November 27. GOOD ENEMY will also be released as an Audible Original, extending its reach to millions of Audible listeners around the world.

Below, read our interview with playwright Yilong Liu and director Chay Yew about this haunting new work.

Yilong, what are the origins of Good Enemy? Where and when did the writing process begin for you?

Yilong Liu: I actually started to write this play during the height of the pandemic. It was a time when everyone was in quarantine and separated from their families. I missed my family. I was New York, they're in China. So we worried about each other and I talked to them every day. It felt a bit weird at first because it's been 10 years since I came to the U.S.. There has been a lot of distance and differences between us and sometimes it felt like we didn't really quite know how to talk to each other.

So, one day, during a phone call, I just asked my mom to tell me a story that I didn't know about her from her childhood. She started to talk to me about, about the town she grew up in and the river in that town...I remembered the river she was talking about, because when I was growing up, every year we would visit her hometown and the ancestral grave. My mom would always point at the river and tell me the stories about the river. During the pandemic on that phone call, it was actually the first time that that river came to life for me, and it was the first time I started to see her life as a kid, as a young woman. She went on to talk to me about how she met my dad and their story. All of a sudden struck me that how little I actually knew my parents prior to that point.

The story is not about my parents, but this play is inspired by the desire to connect with them. I think that feeling is really true to a lot of Asian American families here. The miscommunication or the lack of communication between parents and kids. So, I feel like this story is inspired by the desire to connect with family during a time of separation, during that time of crisis and during that time of uncertainty.

The play deals a lot in not just generational differences, but cultural ones as well, highlighting the relationship with Howard, the immigrant parent, and Momo, his highly Americanized young adult daughter. What perspective did you hope to bring to that exploration?

Chay Yew: The play is structured in such a way that is somewhat a memory play. In an interesting sort of way, these scenes are like memories fractured, trying to make sense of the past and the present. That's what Howard's trying to do. Most immigrants, we live in multiple timelines. You always live in the past because that's where home was, and yet you are in a new place. You struggle to make sense of that and you always feel like you're in between. So, living in the in between and trying to figure out all these pieces has always been a struggle. For most immigrants, when they leave a place that is politically traumatic or there has been great trauma, they try to forget the past because, I believe, most immigrants come to this country not for themselves, but so their children have a better life. So whatever their case is, sacrifices are being made. So as a result of that sacrifice, one aspect of it would have to be, let's forget about the past because the past is inconsequential.

So as the American child grows up, at some point, one would ask, "What was the path of my parents?" And the parents will get edgy or may not want to talk about this. And that also becomes the point of a rift, which is beautifully articulated and observed by Yilong in this particular play. It's a way of survival in this country or in any other country that immigrants go to, to forget. But you don't forget this because you are always living with ghosts. And I think this play is exactly that.

Then for the child, the question becomes how can I truly know myself if I don't understand the events that shaped the people that made me.

That's correct. But we also have to understand that this was also generational. For example, kids today can have therapy, whereas a generation or two before, that's not seen as something that is viable or positive because that means that something wrong with you. Or do you even have the money and access to that kind of treatment? The Chinese people believe in this particular word called, "rěn," which means, "to endure." So if there's trauma or there's pain, we're going to forget that, and we're going to move on. Even though it may be brave and it may be a way of surviving, you do carry the trauma into whatever you do, and it may even seep into the children.

Leading the play is Francis Jiu, a veteran actor with an incredible body of work. What has the experience been like working with him and what did you feel made him right for the part of Howard?

Chay: Francis and I have known each other for decades. We started together when I was playwright at The Public Theater. We've been working together for many, many projects. It's been a joy to see him blossom and grow. What I love about Francis is that he is a veteran of new plays, so he plunges in fearlessly and he gives his entire heart to the part and to the play. And collaborating with him is just great. We have a shorthand, we mostly laughed all the way through rehearsals with the cast. When you have people like Francis in the room, it just makes telling the story easier and fuller.

Yilong: Francis, in addition to what Chay said, is also very generous actor. I first saw him in Lauren Yee's play, "King of the Yees" and then later I saw him in Hansol Jung's play, "Wild Goose Dreams." Those are two fantastic plays with two fantastic, really different father figure characters. Ever since then I have been in love with his acting, his performance, and it's just feels like a dream coming true to be able to collaborate. Another part of the joy of collaborating with artists like Francis is that I feel like I don't have to explain myself. In some other situations or process I may feel like I need to explain my cultural background and my identity. In this process it just feels like these people understand it, and this is something that is shared. It always moved me to see how in the process, while discovering story, discovering the characters, Francis or and the other actors sort felt moved to connect to the material in a personal way and started to share their own family or personal history, and that is just really touching to me.

Following its run, Good Enemy is going to be an audio play available on Audible. Was this work created for both the stage and the audio format, or was that something that came later? How does the process work to take a play from the stage to say, someone's headphones?

Yilong: It's a very interesting question. Since I was writing the story in the middle of the pandemic and theatre nationwide was shutting down, at that time I just felt like having the support from Audible, knowing that I have the developmental, artistic and financial support to create a new story, felt like enough for me to delve into the world I'm creating. So I wasn't really thinking about if this is for audio or for the stage. I was just thinking about writing the story I want to see first, and I just in trusting that if this is also going to exist in the audio form, the people at Audible with more audio experience are going to guide me and help me find the audio elements that need to happen in order for this to be also be an audio play. I feel like there are also elements in this play that after sharing the draft with them, because I didn't have any audio experience prior to that this, just listening to them getting excited about how these elements in the story, such as the river, can really shine in the audio play really excited me as well.

Theatre is typically confined to its location, and it's a rare opportunity for theatre artists to bring their work to an audience as wide as the one Audible can provide. What does having that reach for such an important piece mean to you both as theatre artists?

Chay: Well, for me, I just hope that it inspires people who listen to plays to come to the physical theater and find the joy of watching it live. There was a conversation among theater artists who are very concerned about the live taping of our shows. We were concerned that people who had experienced that may not want to come back and see the live show. And I feel we were wrong. It made them more inspired and excited to come see the real theater performance of the work. So I'm hoping that this recorded audio library of plays will actually excite people to come see the real plays that are being performed in their communities and around the country.

Yilong: So much of theatre is actually about connection, and being able to connect to more audience members or more listeners feels quite magical to me. I started to write this play in the middle of a pandemic. Ever since I became part of the Emerging Playwrights Cohort with Audible, I started to listen to other writer's originals. In 2020, I remember listening to these audio plays and taking walks in the park. I'm just walking alone, popping in my earphones and listening to this piece while theatre is shutting down, and it felt like, "Oh wow, I'm still listening to theatre. I'm still in my community." So I'm hoping the listening experience will also reach people in that way. Like Chay said, I hope this inspires them to actually come see the shows, but for listeners that don't really have access to live theatre around them, I feel like this piece can recreate that feeling of being part of a community that I had when I was listening in quarantine.

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