Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pushing The Envelope

One of the last acts I caught at this year's San Francisco Fringe Festival was a series of quick skits performed by Opening Peoples' Minds, a group of skilled Asian-American comics based in Los Angeles.  Entitled Exotic Messages, these skits pulled no punches in mocking Asian American stereotypes in ways that could make Margaret Cho appear timid.  

Which Margaret Cho?  This Margaret Cho:

"Don’t fucking question my Christianity you fucking idiot assholes. If you continue to have a problem, then talk to God about it, not me, you fucking racist homophobic misogynist fake Christian shitheads. God thinks it is funny that I swear so much. He said I could use his name in vain or whatever. He just wants me to use it. He loves me. So fuck you. And I guess he loves you too. Even though you are fake Christian assholes. If you were truly Christians, you would let gays get married, and send them fucking presents from Bed Bath and Beyond! If you truly believed in Jesus, you would try to be like him and love us, fags and dykes and feminists all. God bless you, even you. You fucking fuckers."

Opening with "Habitat," the cast demonstrated the mating patterns of a subspecies of lizards, with the yellow dragon using his powers of camouflage to snare a mate.

In "Appa Knows Best," a widowed Korean mother is dead set against her daughter dating a Mexican.  As many times as the daughter keeps insisting that her boyfriend is Filipino, the mother only  changes her tune upon learning that the young boy (who is in the hospital following a terrible accident) is also the owner of a winning lottery ticket.

"Little Miss Inappropriate" depicted an Asian family who uses their bratty daughter as a means of gaming free goods from Asian shopkeepers.   Julia Cho brought down the house as a loud-mouthed little brat whose embarrasingly racist questions succeed in getting the family the cell phone they have craved for free.

"The Mr. Lee Show" took shots at the idiocy of amateur radio hosts.   In this skit, Mr. Lee was cast as an immigrant with the Asian habit of substituting "r" for "l" when pronouncing words.   Thus, he was quick to point out that a particular person was actually "firipino."  Mr. Kim wasted no time in proudly telling a Presidential candidate that, "Yes, you do look Barack!"

"Glengarry Glen Girl Scout" gave Julia Cho another winning turn as the most obnoxious cookie sales motivator in history.  

The final skit, "Olympics 2014" topped an hour of hilarity as members of the U.S. and Chinese Olympic teams competed for the gold medal in fucking.  The Chinese team (Wang Qinli and Hu Xiaoxian) were portrayed with mechanical precision by the eternally hunky Ewan Chung and Caroline Pho.  The American team (Justin Sider and Mia Ho) were portrayed by Dave Wilder and Julia Cho.  Charles Kim narrated as Bob Costas.

Written by Charles Kim, John Lopez, Dustin Chinn and Chase Sprague, the skits were cleverly directed by Esther K. Chae.  If OPM is ever in your neighborhood, try to catch them live.  Their work is wonderfully biting and truly hilarious.

OPM performs in Exotic Messages (Photo by Ewan Chung)

In a very strange way, the daring comedy of OPM owes a great debt to a revolutionary musical which made its Broadway debut on April 29, 1968 after an initial run at Joe Papp's Public Theater in Greenwich Village.  A new documentary which will be shown at the 2008 Mill Valley Film Festival, Hair: Let The Sun Shine In, reminds viewers that it was Hair which broke down previous barriers of onstage nudity and confronted issues such as drug use, war resistance, and civil rights in ways which challenged audiences like no other show had in the past. For those who have forgotten, birth control pills were a relatively new phenomenon which helped bring about an age of sexual freedom for women.  Hair was also one of the first multiracial Broadway shows to cast blacks in leading roles.

Although this documentary may make some baby boomers feel incredibly old, it offers viewers a fascinating look back at the times and artists that created Hair.  Veterans of various Hair tribes (Keith Carradine, Melba Moore,  Ben Vereen) as well as coauthor James Rado, composer Galt McDermott, director Tom O'Horgan and producer Michael Butler offer fascinating historical insights into the cultural changes which brought the first rock musical to Broadway.  A wealth of archival footage includes fascinating clips of Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson as well as a 19-year-old Tim Curry being interviewed in French.

The occasion for this documentary is, of course, the recent production of Hair (which is now slated to move to Broadway in 2009) by the Public Theater.  Contrasting archival footage from the original production's creators and cast with the new production (some 40 years later), it's amazing to see how some things really haven't changed all that much.  The music still enthralls, the lyrics still challenge an audience and old taboos just won't die.  

Since the film is only an hour long, I'm pretty sure it will end up on television.  Here's a clip:

1 comment:

Ewan said...

Thanks for the fantastic review.
We're coming back this September!