Stefani Kuo’s ’17 new play, “Architecture of Rain,” which features an all-Asian female cast, premieres Thursday at the Iseman Theatre.
“Architecture of Rain,” “a play about memory, and the fluidity and gravity of it,” according to an online description, is the Yale Dramatic Association’s first performance of the fall season. The play tells the story of a mother and her three daughters, the youngest of whom has died in a car accident.
“The production is teaching all of us so much, myself included, and what it means to have this conversation, not because the play has Asian content, but because of what it is showing in its representational choices,” Kuo said.
Despite the casting decision, Kuo and director Greg Ng ’18 noted that the play should not be taken as a generalization of the Asian experience. The four leads come from different backgrounds, Ng explained, and he didn’t want to erase that diversity by making “sweeping statements” about culture or family.
For Kuo, the play did not even begin with Asian characters. The first draft, she said, starred two white men and a white woman.
“I never thought it was an Asian play,” Kuo said. “It still isn’t an Asian play to me, but the voices I was trying to write had my sense of culture and home in them.”
But after working on an all-Asian production of Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing!” with the National Asian American Theatre Company, Kuo said she began to envision her play differently.
After “Architecture of Rain” was selected for the Yale Playwrights Festival in March — which featured readings of five new plays by Yale undergraduates — Margaret Spillane, one of Kuo’s mentors, encouraged her to consider an all-Asian cast. Spillane is an English professor at the University best known for her arts criticism.
Collaborating with the Yale School of Drama’s Asian Potluck, an Asian and Asian-American theater coalition, Kuo found support and actors for the reading of the play at the conclusion of the festival, which gave her an idea of what it might be like to have an all-Asian cast for the play, she said. “Architecture of Rain” was proposed and selected as a Dramat fall production last spring.
While Kuo said she initially feared an insufficient number of actors would audition, between 30 and 40 Asian women tried out for four parts.
“That in itself was already a victory — it just goes to show how much talent there is, how much interest,” Ng said. “I think one of the reasons why people have been wary to stage shows that call for race-conscious casting is because they think people won’t come out or there aren’t enough people to fill those roles, and I think [‘Architecture of Rain’] proves that very wrong.”
Many of the women who auditioned but did not receive parts ended up working on sets, makeup, costumes, lights and other production areas, though Ng acknowledged that ideally, there would have been more Asian women on the key production staff.
Connie Lam ’19, who plans on attending one of the performances, said she is excited for the production for many reasons, including the fact that a Yale undergraduate wrote the script. She added that the casting decision is also important to her, noting that Hollywood often excludes Asian-American actresses from many roles.
Ng said he feels the Dramat’s choice to run “Architecture of Rain” in the same season as “The Colored Museum,” a play that premiered in 1986 and depicts themes and identities unique to African-American culture, was consciously made. But, he said, it is important that the two plays not serve as “tokens,” for institutional change is necessary. The Dramat recently drew criticism for casting a white woman in a role in “Wild Party” typically played by a black man.
“Architecture of Rain” runs from Thursday, Oct. 6 through Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Iseman Theatre.