This past week, I was able to travel to LA’s Little Tokyo to see the premiere of the East West Player’s all-Asian American ensemble of Mysterious Skin, a screenplay based of a 1996 novel by Scott Heim about the lives of two boys sexually abused by their baseball coach: one boy represses the sexual encounter and is convinced he was abducted by aliens, the other cherishes it, becoming a hustler later in life.
So yeah, obviously this isn’t a feel good movie; this is the opposite of a feel good movie: a very violent rape scene, graphic monologues about sexual abuse, people smoking — just enough of it to notice the established older Asian American theater-goers in their 70s shift uncomfortably in their seats and whisper to themselves, “my, this is challenging, isn’t it?” It sure is. But let’s face it; us Asian Americans are skittish about re-approaching traumatic experiences to begin with, much less anything related to sex or sexual abuse. The East West Players showing this play is just as much of a statement as the play itself.
As for the play itself, I’m not a theater aficionado, so I’ll simply say this: it was intense and powerful, but clearly not for everyone. The performances of the overall ensemble were solid – especially the leads, played by David Huynh and Scott Keiji Takeda — although friends who had seen the 2004 movie directed by Gregg Araki wondered out loud how much the characters were influenced by the movie, rather than the screenplay, written by Prince Gomolvilas. But all of that said, Mysterious Skin is a play worth watching — safe, conventional theater is, well, safe and conventional, but it’s also boring; we all deserve to be challenged and I’m glad there are programs and shows that are willing to take it there.
[David Henry Hwang Theatre, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. Through October 10. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 213 625-7000. DISCLAIMER: Joz is a board member of the East West Players, but did not contribute to this post.]