Belonging to Nowhere

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Reflections of Asian life in the west are cast in The Theory of Everything.

In the play by Prince Gomolvilas, a group of friends and family hang out on the rooftop of The Love Chapel, one of those Las Vegas shotgun wedding halls, scouting for UFOs. Performed by Theatre Diaspora, Portland’s pan-Asian theatre ensemble, the story is propelled from this stationary setting with a rotation of dialogue and monologue. It builds an idea of what Asian-Americans living in Nevada might do to find their purpose and reveals what the opportunities are for the many children of immigrants.

Because this is a staged reading, actors hold the script and use moveable podiums, where they can lay down the pages and express with their hands. Stage directions are announced on the sidelines. If this were a finished production, I think it would go well in a place like Artists Repertory Theatre, where the reading was held.

There are three families represented in seven characters. There are Chinese siblings, Lana and Nef, whose parents hold great expectations for their children’s academic trajectories. A Filipino single mother TSA agent and her twenty year-old son, Gilbert, who works in a KENO room. A mixed-race couple, Patty (Thai) and Hiro (Japanese), own The Love Chapel.

Patty opens everything with a monologue, talking about her fascination and study of UFOs, exclaiming that she would love to be abductedbut it only happens to white people. The first dialogue comes between Gilbert — who wants people to call him Ibuprofen — and Lana, who finds herself kicked out of law school, afraid to tell her family. Gilbert proposes marriage because they’ve been lifelong friends.

The premise, however, is not fully set until Patty’s mother, May, claims that she narrowly escaped alien abduction the previous night, swiftly convincing Patty of her story, who then convinces everyone to hang around for another sighting and to go on a 24-hour watch. Things only start to get interesting from there.

This premise allows for the long dialogue between friends and family to go deep into the personalities of these people. Gilbert, who is young and impulsive, reveals deeper identity troubles by hashing it out with Lana’s brother, Nef. Hiro reveals deeper marriage problems with Patty by shooting the breeze with Shimmy, Gilbert’s mom.

What starts to be exposed are the social expectations built by previous generations of immigrants — and this reveals demands made by Westerners. The younger characters were born in America; they have grown into young adults without much to them other than this kind of average Americanness. Not that they’re devoid of personality, indeed, I pulled for them. I wanted to know them better. With each to their own monologue, we’re given the chance to hear their own inner dialogue and to feel common empathy.

The play got me pondering on the dissolution of traditionalism in all walks of life under the steamrolling power of capitalist America to flatten everything it runs across into a paper bill. The identity crises that these folks go through sound like the same one brought about in everyone from this strange preoccupation with transforming ourselves into industry representatives through our occupations. Through our means of income, we shape our worldview, our new tradition. No sir, I don’t like it.

America is a confused child in the wilderness, amnesiac and wandering. A european population smothered a native population in the name of manifest destiny. The reason we say Native-American is to recognize this fact in everyday speech. But it would be more effective in our consiousness to recognize that we’re visitors (yes I’m white) and call ourselves European. To say Native American is ridiculous. They are Americans and enjoyed a real freedom.

If we are European, Asian, African, or Arab, our citizenhood is irrelevant to our traditions — so long as citizens recognize common law and order. This is what made America a powerful place: the diversity. It was also the slavery. Now without common slavery, we’re all just one big pancake. In a world that has been made flat, it’s no wonder some of us feel like aliens.

The Theory of Everything has not been announced for complete production as of this time. To learn more about the companies and the actors involved, see the links below.

Corrections: several facts were corrected in this edit. Patty was reported as Japanese. Shimmy was reported to work in a KENO room, she is a TSA agent. This theatre troop is not a volunteer cast. And the play is not actually “new.”



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