Nirbhaya, we are told at the beginning of this play, means fearless. It was a pseudonym given by the Indian press to Jyoti Singh Pandey, a bright, ambitious, 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, who, on the night of December 16th in 2012, boarded a private New Delhi bus to return home to her parents after attending a movie. She never made it back.
How would you feel if you attended a play that included yellow face? Now imagine being an Asian actor constantly auditioning in New York City (struggling to come across casting calls that fit your type) and finding out that a major theater company went with white actors for the roles of the Emperor and Empress of China. Han Ong’s latest play Chairs and a Long Table addresses this very issue. As a part of the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Breaking the Myth” series, Ong’s new play is making it’s world premier in rep alongside Carlos Celdron’s Livin’ La Vida Imelda at The Clurman Theater. Yellow face, black face, brown face, white washing characters that were written to be of color – these are all problems that are still going strong today, and the timing of this play could not be more appropriate.