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A CurtainUp DC Review
What playwright Anchuli Felicia King has done in White Pearl, now at Studio Theatre, its U.S. debut, has juxtaposed race, ethnicity and the responsibilities of the cosmetic business, which after all is engaged in the practice of illusion. Plenty of conflict to work with.
The all-female executive team at Clearday is in meltdown because of a leak. Someone has loaded on to social media an ad that shows the company's big seller, White Pearl, which is supposed to whiten skin but doesn't. In fact it has been marketed without adequate checking of safeguards. The results are disastrous.
Ok, so what are the women responsible for this odious product going to do? In the time-honored tradition of corporate malfeasance, they blame one another and a cat fight of monumental proportions ensues. A scapegoat is what's needed and there is no lack of manicured finger-pointing as blame and shame bounce from one character to another. Director Desdemona Chiang has either encouraged or let her cast scream loudly.
Clearday's upper echelons consist of the statuesque and elegant Shanta Parasuraman as Priya Singh, a Singaporean of Indian (dot not feather) descent; Jody Doo as Sunny Lee, an overdrawn hip-talking Singaporean pr who spouts "dude" and "bro" far too often while trying to contain damage; Resa Mishina as the idealistic Japanese Ruki Minami, a sweet performance of the play's only non-corrigible, sympathetic character; Diana Huey is over-the-top with a nowhere-to-go performance as Built Suttikul, the potty-mouthed, spoiled brat/daughter of a rich Singaporean investor; Narea Kang as Soo-Jin Park, a South (no, no, NOT North) Korean chemist whose formula for the skin-whitening cream is questionable; and Jenna Zhu as Xiao Chen, who fears deportation to her native China where she would be at the mercy of her father, a powerful politician, and his allies. Rounding out the cast is Zachary Fall, with a believable French accent, as the videographer Marcel Benoit.
There they are: one from column A, one from column B, etc. representing various ethnicities and prejudices within Asia, as well as the distaste Asians have for African-Americans. There are some jabs at corporate irresponsibility and the power of social media -- true or not -- that goes viral. And that's it really. Some good one-liners in the style of a tv sit-com are genuinely funny but constant f-bombs weaken the dialogue's effect. That's a pity because Anchuli Felicia King could have had in her characters and in the situation which, btw, is based on a true incident, the makings of a good play. However, White Pearl goes only skin deep.
White Pearl by Anchuli Felicia King>
Directed by Desdemona Chiang>
Set Designer, Debra Booth>
Costume Designer, Helen Huang>
Lighting Designer, Wen-Ling Liao>
Sound Designer, Melanie Chen Cole>
Cast: Jenna Zhu (Xiao Chen); Shanta Parasuraman (Priya Singh); Jody Doo (Sunny Lee); Resa Mishina (Ruki Minami); Diana Huey (Built Suttikul); Soo-Jin Park (Narea Kang); Zachary Fall (Marcel Benoit). >
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission.
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street, NW; studiotheatre.org;
Performances November 6 - December 8, 2019.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at November 10, 2019, performance.
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