Review of "Man of God": Teen Girls Play the Peeping Pastor in a Clever L.A. Play


Review of "Man of God": Teen Girls Play the Peeping Pastor in a Clever L.A. Play


Four Korean American teenagers are gathered around a motel bed when the lights turn on. They are members of a Southern California church group travelling to Bangkok, Thailand on a mission, however, the specific location is irrelevant. In "Man of God," the audience never leaves the hotel room, but our imaginations are put to the test by director Maggie Burrows' imaginative staging of this biting feminist one-act by Anna Ouyang Moench.

The temptation-filled world outside the hotel room's refuge is suggested by the neon lights outside the window. The play's opening surprise shattering the notion that this is a safe place: The most devoted of the young missionaries, Kyung-Hwa (Ji-Young Yoo), is holding a little webcam she had just found hidden beneath the hotel bathroom. Who might have put it in? There is little mystery there: Because it is marked "Property of New Seoul Christian Church," their escort, the pastor, is expected to take care of it. What these four girls will do about it is the real concern.

In terms of #MeToo situations, this one is successful in evoking all the same dynamics of power abuse as a physical attack while still allowing Moench to handle the problem with an empowering yet irreverent sense of humour. The characters can express a variety of divergent responses to what has happened because this invasion of privacy affected four girls rather than simply one.

As an illustration, pray-away bulimic According to Kyung-Hwa, who has revealed that she has endured much worse for years, being spied on isn't that horrible. It's an odd response from such a conservative a youngster, but it's typical of how Moench doesn't just put her own opinions in the characters' mouths. She gives kids the freedom to think for themselves and form their own opinions. Her "Man of God" writing has one important strength: audiences don't feel lectured; instead, they may compare their own experiences to those of these four girls.

The group's leader is the incredibly cynical, foul-mouthed Mimi (Erin Rae Li). She doesn't believe in God, but she thought the journey would be more enjoyable than Kumon. Now she is stuck with three squares halfway around the world. Jen (Emma Galbraith), a shy and awkward social butterfly, would rather be studying. She rejects cultural pressures to apply lipstick and other cosmetics in order to be attractive, making her the target of brutal bullying from the other kids (who initially assume she may have planted the camera). Last but not least, Samantha (Shirley Chen) is the most entertaining of the four despite being a bit of an airhead and pulling a pair of stuck-up pigtails to make her appear innocent and a little ludicrous.

If not for the actors who give these girls life, they may have been stereotypes. Although the play's #MeToo component is undoubtedly its most salient selling point, it's welcome to see a drama that is based on religious Asian American youth, a demographic that is rarely represented in any media. Watching these four oddballs — oil-and-water personalities thrown together by the church mission, then bonded by the spycam predicament — work through their differences in order to find a solution is half the fun of "Man of God," which will next be performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with the same cast on July 5.

Now, this is where a dozen films about sexual relationships that turn the tables—from "Hard Candy" to "Promising Young Woman"—have diverged: How are comparatively helpless girls supposed to address the societal issue of predatory male behaviour? Moench goes for delighted exaggeration, offering each of the girls the option to picture themselves triumphantly regaining control through a variety of garishly lit, extravagant revenge fantasies.

Samantha snaps and imagines herself facing off against the pastor (Albert Park) in an epic samurai sword combat, complete with comically staged slo-mo fight manoeuvres, when the scenario finally dawns on her. Jen imagines a scene from "The Godfather" where the pastor is found face down in a bowl of spaghetti, while Mimi has a dream in which she uses a knife to remove the offender's kidneys before gouging out his eyes.

Moench envisions a painfully prolonged pause when the pastor eventually shows up in the last scene. She notes in the stage directions that "This scene, from Samantha's choice to [omitted] to the next spoken word, should take roughly ten minutes." It's a risky move that renders the audience powerless for the duration, just like the characters. The objectionable camera and the metaphorical Chekhov's pistol, in this case, a bottle of "strange Thai juice" laced with Xanax, are both present on stage and add tension to the already stressful scenario. With "Man of God," Moench has created a play that will renew your confidence in the theatre by using a straightforward scenario, four independent-minded characters, and a wealth of comedy.

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