MAN OF GOD at Geffen Playhouse

So, while we’re talking about grooming, in America, let’s talk about it for a moment because it’s an unspoken, yet critical topic in, MAN OF GODcurrently at The Geffen Theaterat the Audrey Skirball Kenis theatre.

Church camp. Missionary camp. Saving souls for Jesus. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable members of a youth group are gently and systematically preyed upon by the very adult with whom they should be safest.

In, MAN OF GOD, playwright Anna Ouyang Moench cuts to the chase in setting up this wildly comedic drama about four Asian American high school girls on a mission trip to Thailand with their pastor. And it is certainly not what is expected.

The American Bar Association defines sexual “grooming” as a preparatory process in which an abuser gradually gains the trust of a person or organization with the intent to be sexually abusive. The victim is usually a child, adolescent or vulnerable adult.* It is a concept that is currently being exploited in the broad political scene of far-right American politics. But lands the sweet spot of the piece’s context when you consider a recent Washington Post story that broke the “Southern Baptist Texas Sex Scandal* or the hundreds of TicTok videos from former Mormon and evangelical survivors who speak to the very issues that are raised in this piece. Moench actually wrote this piece long before the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement exploded.

So when one of the girls finds a video camera strategically placed under the toilet bowl in their hotel room, it’s no surprise, to us anyway, that they immediately launch into an uproar of anger, doubt, confusion and fight between them. They struggle very hard and violently over whether it’s even possible for their pastor to rape them – filming them in varying degrees of stripping and frankly, “doing their thing” in the bathroom.

Bold, smart, and resourceful as they are, they are still teenagers and…young women…who suddenly find themselves in one of the most vulnerable situations they could find themselves in. Locked in a room, in the middle of a red-light district, in a foreign country whose language they don’t speak, without access to their Pastor who gave them all a different room number, without a passport, without internet access and a phone that charges a lot of money to call home. They even doubt that they can call the police. Because who would believe them. One of the girl’s mothers certainly doesn’t, even after a desperate and ultimate phone call. And, of course, where they really are is at the epicenter of the Thai sex trade that even the girls question. Not everything is just disturbing. It’s terrifying.

“He’s a little – you know.”

“Yeah.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s…you know…”

“I love the way he hugs me. He makes me feel safe.”

Whatever situation they find themselves in, they actually do not feel safe. They are scared. One by one, we watch as these girls act out hilarious personal revenge fantasies as their own version of Madonna. “What it does for a girl“as they struggle with the concept of being violated, to what degree, patriarchal behavior, the idea that boys will be boys and ultimately justice. How will they get it? Because everyone feels indebted to the minus that.

But who will speak? And by doing it or not doing it, does that make them victims, agitators or accomplices? It’s a hugely interesting point of view to watch these girls laugh and fight and reveal themselves to their hearts with every passing moment trapped in the room.

MAN OF GOD is a button pusher. So be prepared. (I was practically hysterical myself at the end of the play.) The screenplay is nimble. And while extremely funny, even the more lighthearted and inventive moments don’t hurt. There is nothing to hide from these girls or their situation and certainly not from the man who absolutely abused them.

Geffen’s production billed as a feminist thriller had its original world premiere in 2017 at East West Players. It most likely evolved. The casting here is downright perfect. The actors are incredible as a set and the work is exceptional under the direction of Maggie Burrows. And it’s all summed up by the incredible set, lighting and sound design, as well as costume and fight choreography, which work perfectly on The Geffen’s small stage.

MAN OF GOD is an extraordinary and important piece of storytelling.

Written by Anna Ouyang Moench

Directed by Maggie Burrows

Previews: Tuesday May 10 – Thursday May 19, 2022

Opening: Friday, May 20, 2022

Closing party: Sunday, June 19, 2022

CAST

Shirley Chen as Samantha

Emma Galbraith as Jen

Erin Rae Li as Mimi

Albert Park as Pastor

Ji-young Yoo as Kyung-Hwa

PRODUCTION TEAM

Scenographer Se Oh

Costume designer Denitsa Bliznakova

lighting designer Chi Chu Tower

Original music and sound design by Jonathan Snipes

fight director Thomas Isao Morinaka

Director of Intimacy Mia Schachter

Production Manager Elizabeth A. Brohm

casting director Phyllis SchuringaTHAT’S IT

PERFORMANCE CALENDAR

Monday No performance

Tuesday – Friday 8:00 p.m.

Saturday 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Sunday 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

LOCATION

Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024

Proof of vaccination and masks are required – additional policy details can be found at https://www.geffenplayhouse.org/plan/reopening/.

DURATION

90 minutes, without intermission.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are currently priced from $30 to $129.00. Available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Charges may apply.

Warnings

This production contains adult language, adult themes, depicted violence, loud music, smoking a herbal e-cigarette, and strobe lighting effects. Not recommended for children under 14 years old. Children under 6 years old will not be admitted.


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