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“Fresh Off the Boat”…on the stage

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A young Asian American man stands sternly in front of a blackboard. “F-O-B. Fresh Off the Boat. FOB.” So begins his diatribe against recent Chinese immigrants to the United States. “Clumsy, ugly, greasy,” he spits out. “Loud, stupid, four-eyed.”

Thursday through Saturday at the Nitery, the Stanford Asian American Theater Project (AATP) presents “FOB” by Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang ’79.

“FOB” is an exploration of conflicting subdivisions within the Asian community as they existed in 1980. Tensions arise between an American-born young man of Chinese descent and a newly-landed immigrant, fresh off the boat (FOB) from China. The Chinese immigrant meets two Asian American students in Los Angeles, where he is told that in order to assimilate into American culture, he must strip himself of his “Chinese” characteristics. What begins as a comical clash of East and West values develops into a complex tapestry of Chinese and Western theater as major characters embody figures from traditional Chinese mythology.

This year’s AATP production of “FOB” is an ambitious undertaking, perhaps too much so. Director Holly Bliss Rogers ’10 does a commendable job; the staging and lighting consistently underscores the tension of the scenes. Hwang’s weighty dialogue occasionally comes off as stilted, and the actors have a bit of trouble making 1980s slang sound natural. James Xie ’10 is strong presence in the play, portraying the foreigner’s plight with earnestness and a subtle comedy. As the American-born Chinese, Alex Chen ’12 has moments of brilliance, such as his monologue on the inevitable Americanization of the FOB. Rounding out the small cast is Joohee Ahn ’11 as the sweet and conflicted Grace.

Certain aspects of Hwang’s play do prove difficult to stage. The back-and-forth between the play’s reality and elements of Chinese myth, while an innovative and dramatic technique, appears clumsy at times and does not play out to its full potential.
However, one cannot deny that “FOB” is a thought-provoking play. Although the piece was written in the late ’70s, topics of immigration and assimilation are still all too pertinent in today’s political climate. By the time the characters in “FOB” reach an uneasy truce, the audience will be left to their own devices to evaluate their perceptions of what it means to be an American.

Hwang is an alumnus of Stanford University, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1979. In fact, “FOB” was originally produced in 1978 in Junipero House (now Okada) by founding members of the AATP. Hwang’s “FOB” went on to premier on Off-Broadway and win an Obie Award.

Founded by Hwang himself, the Asian American Theater Project (AATP) is a student group that promotes Asian American talent in the performing arts and strives to feature Asian Americans in positive, non-stereotypical roles. In the past, the AATP has brought plays such as “R&L,” “Forgetting Tiburon” and “Cowboy vs. Samurai” to the Stanford campus.

After the matinee performance of “FOB” on Saturday, the Stanford Asian Pacific American Alumni Club (SAPAAC) will host an alumni panel featuring playwright Hwang himself. In the one-hour session, he and original “FOB” cast and crew members Hope Nakamura ’82 and Nancy Takahashi Hatamiya ’81 will take a look back to the beginnings of Asian American theater at Stanford. The panel will be followed by a reception in the A3C Ballroom, where students can meet the panelists and browse through a historical display of 30 years of Asian American theater

For showtimes and ticket reservations, visit http://bit.ly/fob2010.

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