Kimchee and Chitlins
I had the absolutely incredible honor of portraying Suzie Seeto in the Solid Lines Productions full show of Kimchee and Chitlins directed by the lovely author herself, Elizabeth Wong!
Kimchee and Chitlins, based on the LA Riots of 1992, tells the story of a Korean grocery store in an African American neighborhood after a cultural misunderstanding leads to a community clash. The piece follows Suzie Seeto, a Chinese-American reporter dealing with her own struggles in the newsroom, as she confronts her own cultural identity and understanding of the truth.
Despite being first published in 1996, it was stunning how relevant the play remained, especially in an extremely segmented city like St. Louis. The structure of the show also lent to an interesting dynamic, which featured a Black Chorus on the left, an Asian Chorus on the right, and Suzie in the middle at times flanked by her white male boss (all adjectives that become relevant) and her workplace nemesis, a white anchorwoman. Reminiscent at times of a Greek Comedy, both Suzie and the audience find themselves addressed and coerced by each of the choruses that, at other times, divide into the individual characters that comprise them.
The staging of the play was simple but also lent itself to an interesting dynamic with the audience. Performed at the campus of Saint Louis University, the audience say fully-lit before the small rise of the stage. With the sensitive nature of the racial issues covered and the conflicts that arise, many in the audience told me later that they suddenly became hyper aware of who was sitting around them and what their reactions were to various moments in the play.
For example, there is a very funny moment when Suzie is trying to get to the bottom of the initial event that sparks the play’s fallout and both choruses, in their attempt to explain the course of that day, impersonate the other (so you have the Black Chorus impersonating the Korean Chorus and vice versa, complete with all the stereotypes that might be included in said representation). The scene is hilarious and some of the actors did wildly entertaining things, but during the first showing the audience remained stiffly silent. As if worried that their neighbors or we would be offended by enjoying the purposefully offensive and ridiculous interpretations, the audience didn’t react until a later scene when it’s obvious that we are ‘in on the joke’.
As an Asian – and even moreso as a half-Asian – who grew up in St. Louis and whose mother had owned a beauty supply store in a predominantly black neighborhood, the experience was an incredibly personal one. Toward the end, Suzie gives an increasingly emotional monologue about the realization of her own place in all of this (and her childhood distancing from identifying as ‘Asian’) when she witnesses three black boys misidentify a Vietnamese boy as Korean and beat him up. Having grown up in a compartmentalized world where I’ve never been entirely sure where I fall, issues of Asian identity and the fallout of a culture where the parts that comprise it don’t understand one another rings very closely to me. Plus this was the first production I’d taken part in where actors of color outnumbered the white ones, which was admittedly a cool experience.
Overall, it was a really wonderful experience, and I am so happy and grateful I was able to be a part of it!
Susie Seeto, signing off.