«Contemporary Plays by Women of Color is a compelling collection of new and recent works by African American, Asian American, Latina American and ...»
Kia Corthron’s Come Down Burning, wedged on a rural mountain top, examines the dynamics of dependency and support between two sisters: one a childless paraplegic whose home is her universe, the other a mother who silently yearns to be self-sufficient. The Have-Little, Migdalia Cruz’s poetic urban tragedy, follows the coming of age of a young girl, focusing on her shifting relationships with her mother and her best friend. Their dreams are constricted by the concentric circles drawn by the desperation of the neighborhood, the indifference of society, and the boundaries imposed on their gender. In Inter-tribal Terry Gomez traces the close yet trying friendship of two young Indian women: one whose grandmother has attempted to instill in her a sense of traditional values; and the other an urban Indian woman whose identity has been formed without the guidance of elders or a community.
Till Voices Wake Us, My Ancestor’s House, Flyin’ West and How Else Am I Supposed to Know I’m Still Alive also deal with the close relationships of women;
economics are less a point of focus than the formation of bonds by women determined to fully realize each other. Evelina Fernandez’s comic one-act How Else Am I Supposed to Know I’m Still Alive acknowledges not only the sexual vitality of middle-aged women, but also the boundless nature of friendship, when the question of an unexpected pregnancy arises. Set in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas in the 1890s, Pearl Cleage’s powerful historical play, Flyin’ West, resonates along contemporary lines addressing such themes as economic autonomy in the African American community, spousal abuse, and women controlling their own lives. Faced with the ugly reality of unabating domestic violence, the women of Flyin’ West find solutions and sustenance in their collective strength. In Louella Dizon’s Till Voices Wake Us, a Filipina woman and her grandmother share the gift of dreaming and clairvoyancy, melding the hidden past and the confusing present across an ocean. Finally, in My Ancestor’s House Bina Sharif follows the return of a Pakistani woman who has chosen to marry and live in the West, to her native land and the world of her sisters and dying mother.
As contemporary works waiting to be read, produced, and absorbed these plays offer a wellspring; they are a source to sustain, refresh, and renew us. Fed by our artistic mothers, women who wrote fearlessly and innovatively for the theater—women like Sor Juana de la Cruz, Marita Bonner, and Ling-Ai Li—
INTRODUCTION 15these plays speak in biting satire, dream imagery; dialogue, spare and oblique or overflowing with poetry; singing words, screams, whispers, and audacious jeers.
They resonate in languages other than or beyond English, evoking ancestors and household gods, making visible unremembered heroines, tearing pages from history, torching false myths and leveling the toppling and faulty structures of a reality constructed to hold us in our places. These writers have filled empty spaces and replaced hollow images with flight, light, dreams, real women and imagined women, what really happened and what may happen next. As women of color in the theater, this is the theater which ignites us, this interstitial theater of redemption and transformation;—this is the theater we are making, living, dreaming.
The Plays Brenda Wong Aoki Biography Brenda Wong Aoki creates intense, lyrical, solo theater pieces. Her work is a distinctive blend of dance, music and theater from both Western and Japanese dramatic traditions. The stories are drawn from Asian Pacific folk legends, urban guerilla street mythology and autobiographical accounts of life in these United States.
Brenda was awarded an NEA Solo Theater Fellowship in 1991 and 1994, and two Rockefeller Foundation Multi-Arts Production grants in 1992 and 1993. Her debut album, “Dreams and Illusions: Tales of the Pacific Rim,” won first place for best spoken album of 1990 by the NAIRD (National Association of Independent Record Distributors).
Brenda Wong Aoki has performed across the United States, Canada and Japan including: The Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; Tsukuba World Expo, Japan; The New WORLD Theater; NAPPS Festival, Jonesborough, Tennessee;
Center for Contemporary Arts, New Orleans; Japan America Theater, Los Angeles; East-West Center, Honolulu; San Diego Repertory Theater, California;
and the Triplex Theater, New York City. She lives with her husband, musician/ composer Mark Izu, and their son, Kai Kane, in San Francisco.
Artistic Statement The Queen’s Garden is urban storytelling and street mythology based on: my childhood (growing up “mixed up as chop suey”—I’m Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Scots), my work with street gangs in Long Beach and fifteen years’ experience as a community organizer and teacher in Watts, East Long Beach, Hunter’s Point, the Mission, and Chinatown. The Queen’s Garden is a story set amongst L.A.’s urban tribes. It’s a love story. It’s an epic. It was a big part of my life.
I tour a lot. All over the country. After the L.A. riots, I kept hearing a lot of people say, “Them folks in L.A. sure are crazy. Good thing we don’t live there.” But the reality is that the conditions that spawned the L.A. riots exist all over this country. I wrote The Queen’s Garden in an effort to humanize that experience because it is only ten minutes from Beverly Hills to South Central. And there are South Centrals springing up all over this country.
I am continually moved by the poignancy of life: by the heroic efforts people make just trying to live as human beings in this world at this time. In my work, I try to cut down to the emotional truth. It’s a very physical thing for me. It comes out of my chest and moves to that little groove at the base of my throat. Right there. If it starts to ache, I know it’s right. I know it’s universal and I know I got to tell the story.
This play is dedicated to the memory of Chuck Furutani and to all those working on the front lines. And to the memory of Lia Asoau Toailoa. Keep the Faith.
Production history The Queen’s Garden premiered at the Life on the Water Theater in San Francisco in October 1992, produced by the Climate Theatre. It went on to an extended run at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. Since then it has played at universities and theaters across the country. It won four L.A. Dramalogue awards and the San Diego Critics Circle Award. It is scheduled to be released in 1995 as a spoken-word album with music on both CD and cassette.
The Queen’s Garden Brenda Wong Aoki
Dramaturg: Teresa Marinacci
Author’s notes The Queen’s Garden can be elaborately produced with live music, sets, or it can be very simply produced with just a stool and blacks. I’ve done it both ways. In this script the narrator plays a larger role than usual because I thought this would help the reader. The Queen’s Garden is conceived as a one-woman show. In performance body position, gestures, mannerisms and music can replace some narration.
NARRATOR I grew up where the sunsets were a brilliant red, next to a bridge that crossed a great river that went on forever. My name is Brenda Jean.
Brenda Jean Bavarro McPhillips Wong Aoki. I’m Pake, Buddahead, Chicana, and Haole: Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Scots. And I grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by the 405, the 710, the L.A. County Flood control and the Carson oil fields. An island unto itself that we called the Westside.
When I was 14 my boyfriend, Kali, used to say, “The Westside is the bestside. Cuz, it’s the only side I know.” Kali’s Mom, Aunti Mary, was the Queen of the Westside. She’s the only person I know who could stop a street fight by embarrassing you to death.
AUNTI MARY Harold! Your Mama work all day at the donut shop for wot!?
And You! Shige-boy, stick that lip back in your mouf! Boof of you! Hala!
NARRATOR Life was simple. People were good. Every night, Kali and I would go up on the bridge at sunset, hang out under a street light and watch sky blue pink clouds floating in the river. And I’d think “Yep!” But now that I’m older I know that those sunsets are smog, our bridge—a freeway overpass, and our “river”—a cement canal, the flood control.And today, it’s not romantic hanging out under streetlights cuz they’re bright yellow. Makes it easier for helicopter surveillance—LAPD. And hanging out under streetlights is like saying “Shoot me! Here I am! Just shoot me!” But I remember the old days…
BRENDA Ring! Ring! Ring! Hello? Dave’s Pharmacy. Can I help you?
NARRATOR It’s 1966. I’m 13 years old and my dad, Dave, a typical Nisei, with a big heart and a permanent wave, is opening up the pharmacy 15 minutes late as he does everyday.
DAD 9:15? We’re late! Come on in folks. Come on in. Hey, Big Mike! How ya doin’?
NARRATOR Big Mike is one of the regulars. He looks just like Humpty Dumpty.
BIG MIKE Mornin’ Dave.
NARRATOR The regulars are there when we open and they stay all day. Dad says it’s good cuz they make the store look busy.
BIG MIKE How am I doin?…Well I sorta feel like…Jesus Christ, I’m gonna die. I think I’ll lie down on the ground. Jesus Christ I’m gonna die.
DAD Well, looks like Big Mike’s settled in for the day. Just move around him folks. Move around him.
NARRATOR And all day long my kid brother would peddle his big wheels around and around Big Mike and all the customers would try not to step on his toes.
22 BRENDA WONG AOKI DAD Mama? How’s that coffee coming?
MOM It’s ready. Are we gonna give away the banana bread too?
DAD Yep. Don’t worry. Line up folks. Coffee’s on. Everything’s A OK with Aoki!
BRENDA Ring! Ring! Ring! Dave’s Pharmacy, Brenda Jean at your service!
NARRATOR My job is answering the phones and waiting on the customers. I’m the No. 1 daughter, the onesan, the sergeant.
BRENDA Baby bro, keep your Big Wheels inside the store.
NARRATOR That’s my only brother, the kid on the big wheels. Up there—my quiet sisters, Laura and Donna. And over here, the two chatterboxes—Lisa and Theresa. The baby Sas. We call them the Beesas.
BRENDA Hello! Can I help you? It’s over there by the coke machine. Ah, excuse me? I’m not Donna Ann. I’m Brenda Jean. (To herself) Geez, they always do that. They think we all look alike.
NARRATOR We do. It’s cuz Mom makes all our clothes from the same bolt!
Like, today we’re wearing shocking pink with fuzzy yellow polka dots. So everyone will know we’re in the same family.
BRENDA Mom, I gotta go to the bathroom!
NARRATOR I love the bathroom! It locks. (Sound of locking door) BRENDA (She looks at herself in the full-length mirror.) 4’10” 150 pounds, asthma, bifocals, eczema (scratches, squeezes imaginary zit on forehead)— my sisters called ‘em stalactites.
(She sings) Johnny Angel, (wheeze) How I love him (wheeze) and I pray that someday he’ll love me (wheeze) and together we will see, how lovely heaven can be.
DAD Brenda Jeannie? Brenda Jeannie?
BRENDA Yes, Daddy ?
DAD Hate to disturb your meditation but we got a customer.
BRENDA Okay, Daddy. (Sound of the door unlocking) NARRATOR There in the doorway…straw hat…red mumu…huge honey brown woman. Aunti Mary. The Beesas stop their chattering. Mom looks up.
Baby bro stops. She moves to Big Mike… MARY Auwe! You not make die dead yet, silly guy! Get up!
(Big Mike notices he’s okay.) MIKE Aunti Mary! Aunti Mary’s here!
NARRATOR And she breezes past with a white plastic bucket filled with… MARY Roses. Fresh picked by me dis morning. Da best time! Kings and Queens get Rose Gardens. I get da only rose garden on da Westside. Try smell. Sweet, huh? Folks come to Dave’s Pharmacy to drink coffee, talk story and to smell my roses. Today, Dave, I give you my best and you give me da kine high blood pressure medicine?
NARRATOR I take a rose (smells)… BRENDA WOW!
MARY Hey, the drug man’s daughter! It’s me! Aunti Mary! You here for the beeg regatta? Come meet our team—The Islanders: Smoke from Guam, Uiva from Samoa, Kali, Twila, my kids from Hawaii, Toji from Japan, Gloria from Puerto Rico, Morrie Goldbaum…Where you from Morrie Goldbaum!
MORRIE New York!
MARY Dat’s right! We all from da islands. Brenda Jean, where you from?
BRENDA Well, my mom’s family’s from China, Mexico and Scotland and my dad’s family’s from Japan and Salt Lake.
MARY Oh! You all mix up! Chop Suey! Okay, Islanders! Time to get down to business cuz today we sailing against da Haoles. See da fancy fiber glass boats? Haole outrigger. We get da real ting here. Wood! Heavy but! So we got ta psyche ‘em out! Uiva give ‘em!
UIVA (Gives Samoan cheer. Roars:) Tasi, Lua, Tolu, Fa. (Repeat) Ta lo fa! Ta lo fa! Uso! uso!
NARRATOR Bang! The boats are off and the race is on!
BRENDA (Clapping) Go Islanders! That was fun, Aunti Mary. I gotta go to work.
MARY Oh? Too bad you can’t stay and eat. We get lomi lomi salmon, lau lau… ooh! Da pork…ummmm! Good ting you don’t want any. Go—go, go.
Teriyaki chicken, hamburger, hot dogs for da keikis. You don’t want any. Go.
BRENDA Vegetables…no vegetables.
MARY Wadamelon! We get wadamelon! Try catch!
(BRENDA catches.) NARRATOR And Aunti Mary started to cook MARY (Singing to the tune of “Breaking up is Hard to Do”) Down, do bee do down, down. Come Ah, Come Ah! Down, do bee do down, down. Come Ah, Come Ah! Do be, Do be, Do, Do Ooh, do Do!
BRENDA Aunti Mary! All the other boats are in! They’re pulling up the flags!
They’re going home! It’s dark! (Wheeze!) I’m in big. (wheeze) My parents are gonna (wheeze!)… MARY Oh, por ting! Breathe! Sit down. Breathe. Breathe. You get too much pilikia. Auwe! Breathe! Don’t worry so much. I fix it wit your folks. But you got to breathe. Each breath your mana get more strong…People are like roses.
Water a little, they get big. More wada, more big, til one day—Poof! They bloom! But you no breathe, you neva bloom.
Oh? See dat speck in the moonlight? Dat’s dem. Quick, fan the ribs.
NARRATOR The canoe comes in and one Islander dives into the silvery waves.