Your Voices: Play features Asian actors to turn issue of race on its head

SEATTLE — A local professional theater is turning the issue of race on its head. A playwright found her voice while providing roles for others in the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

A play on stage at the Intiman Theater has a new take on a familiar storyline: a wealthy white family returns home a final time before selling their estate. But in “Two Mile Hollow,” the actors playing the typically white family are Asian.

The resulting play has been garnering big awards.

It’s a story nearly as old as American theater itself: a rich white family living by the water works out its rich white family problems on stage.

And indeed, that was the case when “Two Mile Hollow” was conceived back in 2014.

“I wanted to do an exercise to see if I could write also a ‘white people by the water’ play,” said New York-based playwright Leah Nanako Winkler. “Yeah, that’s how I started writing the play.”

Nanako Winkler said the decision to cast the play with Asians “came about, about two years in.”

That’s when an AAPI theater in Los Angeles approached her about fully staging the play, but only if the actors playing the rich white family were Asian.

“And that’s when I was like, ‘light bulb, yeah!’” said Nanako Winkler.

That decision changes the play.

“Yes, it really does,” she said.

Its fortunes changed, too. In 2017, “Two Mile Hollow” and its mostly Asian casts premiered simultaneously on four stages from L.A. to Chicago.

Then in 2019, it won the American Theater Critics Association’s annual $10,000 Francesca Primus award.

Now “Two Mile Hollow” has made its way to the Intiman Theater.

“It’s such an exciting world that Leah has created to kind of hold a mirror up to the white patriarchal theater,” said Wesley Fruge, Intiman’s newly minted managing director.

Fruge spoke while sitting in the theater’s new home on the Seattle Central College campus.

“So, I think changing the script and flipping the narrative is a really important part of reflection,” he said.

“I just wanted to be silly and act kind of like a fool on stage or something like that,” said Ray Tagavilla, a Filipino actor seen on many Seattle stages.

Tagavilla plays the prodigal son, back home after making it big in Hollywood. It is unusual, he said, to be playing a white character on stage.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be white,” said Tagavilla. “But boy, this definitely helps.”

“What I love about this play is that it really puts you into the position of someone that I’ve never been this character before. How do you act white? How do you even do something like that? And I’m still learning.”

If seeing Asians and other actors of color on the stage in unfamiliar roles is, well, unfamiliar, buckle up. Intiman is creating a home for theater that challenges and reflects us all.

That’s Nanako Winkler’s goal, too, along with flipping a very old script.

“Even in 2014, Emma Stone played an Asian person in ‘Aloha,’ you know,” she said. “So, it’s my way of kind of serving them with fun, like a taste of their own medicine.”

That medicine is going down hysterically well on the Intiman stage.

There’s still time to see “Two Mile Hollow.” It’s on the Intiman stage through Saturday. And it will be online through May 15th.