When four members of a Korean Christian youth group find a hidden camera in their Bangkok hotel bathroom, they do what any teen girls would do: Offer up increasingly enraged revenge fantasies about exactly what they would like to do to the person responsible.
This is the moment at the center of Man of God, a new production from Strand Theater Company and the Asian Pasifika Arts Collective, written by Anna Moench and directed by Elizabeth Ung.
The virtual performance, which premiered March 26, incorporates both Zoom and filmed dream sequences to tell this story of rage, revenge, and feminism.
“These young girls discover a camera in their bathroom, and it spirals into a 90-minute show about how they grapple with their own understanding of feminism, the male gaze, and what it means to be a woman in these times,” Ung says. “And because these are young women of color, it’s a way for them to reveal who they want to be. In a society where they are taught that you can only choose this one path in life, they’re able to express themselves through these odd dream sequences.”
The sequences, filmed during a packed two-day shoot, were the only time the cast and crew behind Man of God got to work together in person, with Kelly Ng, who plays Mimi, even making her way down from New York for filming. The result is a performance that blends live theater with the cinematic, and one that, by necessity, turns the audience itself into the voyeurs.
“It’s been hard because this play wasn’t written for a Zoom stage,” Ung says. “It was definitely difficult to adapt it as such, but I made sure for the actors to feel like they’re all in the same room, even if they can’t see each other. It also kind of speaks to the voyeurism that is implied in the show, and how scary it is that somebody may be watching them. We don’t really know who’s watching on the other side of the camera that is on us.”
Along with Ng, Man of God features Libbey Kim, Sydney Lo, Steve Lee, Rebecca Kiser, Daniella Ignacio, and Jaine Ye. In addition to other support, Strand’s partnership with APAC helped ensure that Ung was able to cast the show in the way she wanted, by reaching out to local AAPI actors.
“This is a play that anyone of any race or gender can relate to, but [APAC] helped a lot with casting,” Ung says, “because one thing I feel in the Baltimore community is very challenging is trying to cast Asian and Asian-American actors. Luckily, I was able to get it rightfully casted and share that we weren’t gonna settle for anything less than that.”
Ung’s desire to share stories from the Asian diaspora genuinely and authentically, as well as to feature Asian artists in Baltimore, fit easily into the vision of APAC and its co-founder Cori Dioquino—who Ung says offered moral and emotional support throughout the production, in addition to the assistance with casting.
The hope is that Man of God can spur audiences to have several conversations, not only about the issues that arise in the play itself, but about whose stories are being told as theater adapts and changes for a new landscape.
“I hope that this show will send a signal to other theaters that this is what we need in Baltimore—more substantial, consistent ways to portray the whole diaspora of Asian-American stories and Asian-American people,” Ung says. “[As theater moves forward,] we have to keep the changes coming and ensure that it’s not only safe in terms of being healthy not getting sick, but being safe for people of color for the future in Baltimore.”
Ung says she hopes audiences will have fun with these characters who are learning, making mistakes, and growing as they try to understand the right thing to do. She hopes that the show helps to make it clear that it’s okay to stumble on a journey toward becoming a feminist or an activist. The important thing, she says, is to do the work, even if there are mistakes along the way.
“I feel like the ending will spur [audiences] to go out there and use that anger and outrageousness to do the work themselves—for them to research and look up these situations,” she says. “I hope that, at least, it will plant a seed in their mind to do something.”
Man of God runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through April 11, and tickets are available online.