Theater itself makes an appearance almost halfway through Diana Oh’s “h8 letter” to it, in the person of a middle aged white man (Joshua Young.)
“You’re doing so good,” Theater tells Oh.
Oh curses Theater.
“I’ve only ever wanted for you to be yourself,” Theater says.
Diana Oh: “I wish you paid me more”
Theater: “I wish I had money to pay you.”
Oh: “What are you doing here?”
Theater: “Well, you spent the last 45 minutes talking shit about me; I thought it’d be better if we talked face to face.”
She suddenly takes off her pants. Theater asks why.
“Because I have agency!”
The conversation between Oh and personified Theater is the most straightforward in this messy, overlong, and sometimes clever show with a large, energetic cast employed in blunt satire, vague parable, original music, and frequent rant to make some familiar and timely points.
There is an all-white diversity panel, in which a panelist tells an aspiring young actor and director: “Kid, you are hip, you’re cool, you’re Asian. These training programs these days are really into anti-oppression, so it’s really a lucky time to be of color” — and then invites him to be his intern. “I’m a nice guy. You won’t even have to pay to be around me. I will let you do it for free.”
In an “Animal Farm”-like parable, the farmer kisses the horses, kills the chickens, and brings “Trump food” into the trough, which isn’t big enough for all the animals. ‘The food is Tony Awards and Lortel Awards and Drama Desk Awards and body parts and blood.” When the pigs beg for some food, “the farmer pets these pigs gently and sweetly, and then kicks these pigs in the face.”
There is also a scene with a high school thespian society that hints at sexual harassment,
This is interspersed with randomly ordered monologues and exclamations.
Oh complains about “hiring artists of color and making them cater to white sensibilities. The only thing that frustrates me more is whenever I walk by an Asian restaurant that serves every type of Asian food imaginable –Korean, Thai, Japanese, Chinese…designed to give you nothing more than a mediocre experience.”
There is at least a stab at some pushback. The actor Timothy Hall (performing from a script that Oh has written, directed and composed) says that he resents that the play “essentially throws the underdog under the bus.” But then he adds “because when it comes down to it, theater is an art form for people who are too ugly for film.” This is what they say about politics, not theater; I’m not sure it’s true about theater, but in any case, it’s off-putting and makes clear that the author is not really interested in a debate.
To be fair, Diana Oh — who describes herself in her bio as “(they/she/punk goddex) a multi-genre artist: creator of performance, installations, concerts, rituals, and parties…” — turns “My H8 Letter” in the last 20 minutes or so into a party, with music and Zoom dancing.
“I didn’t write this play because I wanted to, “ Oh says at one point. “I wrote the play because I had to.”
“I may never be hired after burning this gate down, in which case you can call me the martyr,” she says near the beginning.
I saw the play yesterday. Today came the announcement that Oh has won the New York Community Trust’s Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting, which comes with $25,000. An unlikely martyr.
“My H8 Letter To The Gr8 American Theatre” is a live, online Zoom version of a reading, with the same cast, that was presented at the Public Theater in July, 2019. It will be presented again live tonight at 8, and rebroadcast June 18 at 3pm and 8pm.
Diana Oh’s My H8 Letter to the G8 American Theatre”
Ma-Yi Theater in partnership with Aye Defy and HowlRound.
Cast: Ryan J. Haddad, Timothy Hall, Kevin Hourigan, Nessa Norich, Diana Oh, Matt Park, Michael Puzzo, Alysia Reinier, T. Thompson, Joshua Young, and David Zheng.
Creative: Diana Oh (writer, director, composer), Sarah Shin (assistant director) Maria-Christina “MC” Oliveras(technical operator), Annie Middleton (creative producing partner to Diana Oh), Erica Huang(sound coordinator), and Cristina Sison (stage manager).
Running time: Depends on how late you stay to the party, but the scenes and rants end after about 100 minutes.