Roommates Edgar and Vinny might be a lot of things—disorganized, crude, obnoxious—but they’re not racist… right? William and Mary Theater challenges notion of race, gender and overall bias in its production of “Asuncion” which begins its second week at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall March 15.
Written by Jesse Eisenberg (yes, that Jesse Eisenberg), “Asuncion” premiered in 2011 at New York City’s Cherry Lane Theater and presents the complexities of Orientalism and fetishization that are frequently, if unknowingly, replicated in society and the lived experiences of Asian women. When Vinny’s older brother appears unannounced with his new Filipina bride, the ever-so open-minded roommates jump to alarming conclusions about the origins of the couple’s relationship and commit themselves to getting to the bottom of it.
Bizarre in their presentation, yet overwhelmingly simple in their teachings, the four-person cast presented a peculiar story, but one with a universal message: even the most well-meaning, “woke” or tolerant person is capable of perpetuating racist norms. The production shone through its robust and unnervingly familiar set. Eclectic posters, hastily hung decorative lights and a sign on the bathroom door reading “fart zone” made the space felt authentically lived-in and further accentuated the characters and their personas. While the show’s few makeup effects were lacking and even distracting at times, its costumes succeeded in emphasizing the production’s message even more so.
Under the direction of Francis Tanglao-Aguas, the cast took full advantage of the Studio Theater’s intimate setting to make every joke more obscene, every expression more absurd and every cringe-worthy plot point more outrageous than the last. While it took some time for the show to gain momentum, once the cast reached their stride, they gave tireless and committed performances, with few exceptions. Jeremy Lawrence ’18 as Edgar proved well-versed in physical comedy, often sprawling across set pieces, gesturing wildly and bounding across stage at a moment’s notice. Bradley Riehle ’17 as the older, but questionably wiser, Vinny held the cast together with his confident performance and unshakable delivery. Perhaps the most natural actor, Jolene Mafnas ’18 worked well with every member of the cast without allowing herself to overshadowed by their abundant eccentricities.
Sound design by Tanglao-Aguas introduced distinctive music selections and strikingly relevant radio newscasts during and between scenes, adding yet another layer to the show’s pertinent themes. Despite several shadowy spots, the stage was well-lit with occasional lighting effects to add dramatic flair.
The cast William and Mary Theater’s production of “Asuncion” proved small yet powerful, rolling with the punches and seizing their audience for an exhausting and entertaining performance. While audiences might eventually depart the show’s world of messy apartments and crass comedy, they are left with a disquieting question of how we see ourselves and others in world that is increasingly connected yet stratified.