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Review: THE DALAI LAMA IS NOT WELCOME HERE ~ ELAINE ROMERO'S New Work-In-Progress

Now streaming through March 28th on The Bridge Initiative: Women+ in Theatre Facebook page.

Review: THE DALAI LAMA IS NOT WELCOME HERE ~ ELAINE ROMERO'S New Work-In-Progress

I am breathless and palpably moved. I have just watched the world premiere of Elaine Romero's THE DALAI LAMA IS NOT WELCOME HERE ~ a play (the latest offering in RomeroFest, the month-long celebration of her works), while presented as a work-in-process, is in its on-line staging a work of emotional depth, power, and relevance.

What does one say about a woman in turmoil over the death of her toddler son due to a loose screw in a toy manufactured in a Chinese factory ironically named Give Joy Toys? How do you even begin to measure the weight of a mother's grief or the full range of her desire for an explanation, for accountability, for revenge?

But, hold on for a moment. These salient questions might be enough for a drama in itself. But, Romero, the ever-exploring playwright peeling away at more contemporary issues of justice and morality, expands the canvas and folds the questions into the complex domain of culture and politics. Kate Miller, the grief-stricken protagonist of her play, stands at the tense intersection between the asserted values and practices of the U.S. and China.

This is one rich thematic tapestry that achieves fulfillment through the astute direction of Maren Maclean Mascarelli and the excellent performances of her cast.

As Kate, Brenda Jean Foley once again reveals the depth and range of her talent with a performance that is emotionally riveting and nuanced. Supercharged might be the right word as we watch Kate take the journey of the proverbial thousand miles with one anguished step after another ~ from the mainland of grief to the shores of redemption, from old biases born of her own culture to epiphanies born of new experience.

Six months after her son Ben choked on a screw, Kate's husband Peter (Kent Burnham) presents her with an opportunity to let go and move on. With an offer of a steady job as a factory manager in Shanghai, he sees a future of adventure and new prosperity. She sees herself as a stranger in a strange land that is the scene of the crime that led to her son's death. In a confrontation that matches rose- colored versus doom- colored glasses, Kate relents and they relocate.

In her earlier life as a journalist, Kate had written unflattering stories about China and wonders now what the Chinese would make of her ~ whether they would comprehend and empathize with the syntax of "childless mother." However, the matter of her identity lies not solely on the shoulders of the Chinese; indeed, who Kate is at the age of 38½ is the question that presses on her daily.

The heavy weight of her grief and its causation color her impressions of the ascendant global economic giant that she believes has abandoned its Communist ideals in favor of a competitive capitalist future and an economy based on counterfeits. In her new and unfamiliar trappings, Kate is relentless in her takedowns of the Chinese government, the insidious decline of freedoms, and the disconnects between the autocrats and the impoverished farmers and factory workers. Like a rebel on the barricades, she bellows "Tibet! Taiwan! Tiananmen Square!" as a reminder of China's sins. "You might be capitalists, but you're not free," she daringly declares to a perplexed apartment manager (Sergio Mauritz Ang).

If there is a modicum of balance in her life, it comes from the sage and comforting counsel of Ursula (Maria Amorocho), a self-described San Francisco liberal and fashion designer. At the heart of their discussions is the riddle of Kate's desire for justice.

Despite Ursula's warnings ("Don't be the bearer of another's karma"), Kate finds and confronts the owner of Give Joy Toys, Mr. Hsu (Wai Yim).

In the confrontation that ensues between the accuser and the accused, Romero pivots the play into the terrain of inconvenient truths, reconciliation, and redemption. Kate is not the sole proprietor of grief. As she rails accusatorily at Mr. Hsu in the presence of his 16-year-old daughter Ping Ping (Mary Grace Lim), demanding answers, urging an apology, wanting him jailed, there is intelligence to be shared that throw her off balance. Mr. Hsu bears both his own overwhelming burden of grief as a recent widower and the shame of his fatal manufacturing error.

In the wake of a tragic and fatal turn of events, Kate must reckon with the sins of her own hybris and options that will determine the next phase of her life. Peter demands definition about their future ~ together or not? Has the time come to light a new candle in their lives? Can Kate make amends by adopting Ping Ping?

Romero has written a play that provokes both emotion and introspection ~ fundamental questions about our own sense of humanity and our unconscious biases about others. It may be for some viewers that the playwright goes over the political edge in an arguable apology for the excesses of America (The U.S. "has more problems than China has people, but we're still learning.") or voicing what may be, through Kate's lips, a polemic against the excesses of China. What is certain, however, is that, as this play progresses, it will serve as a provocative reminder on multiple levels of the existential challenges we face in a changing and flattening world.

THE DALAI LAMA IS NOT WELCOME HERE is Elaine Romero's play in two acts, produced by The Bridge Initiative: Women+ in Theatre. The show is available for viewing through March 28th on the company's Facebook page.

NOTES:

  • This play contains moments and themes intended for a mature audience. CW: racism, suicide, and abuse/violence.
  • All ticket revenue will be split between The Bridge Initiative and UCAT: United Colours of Arizona Theatre.

Photo credit to The Bridge Initiative

Additional credits:

Assistant Director: Alejandra Luna
Videographer and editor, Aleks Hollis

The Bridge Initiative: Women+ in Theatre ~ https://www.bridgeinit.org/ ~ info@bridgeinit.org



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From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)


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