Morning Star, the new opera by composer Ricky Ian
Gordon and librettist William Hoffman, had its world premiere last night before
a near-capacity audience in the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Corbett
Theater. Based on a 1940 play by Sylvia Regan, the story follows a Jewish
immigrant family in the early decades of the 20th century. Think of
it as a follow-up to the Tevye family from Fiddler
on the Roof coming to America and having to abandon all that tradition.
Morning Star was originally
commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Goodman Theater but was dropped
when artistic differences killed the collaboration. In 2012, Opera Fusion: New
Works offered Gordon and Hoffman the opportunity to rework Morning Star. The final result is light-years from what was heard
in workshops, but to paraphrase a line from the opera, the story abides.
Gordon writes beautifully for the voice and his score has moments of dramatic
intensity, playfulness and heartbreaking beauty. He’s a favorite among American
singers, so it’s not surprising how great the singing is — but that’s also
thanks to Ron Daniel’s staging.
Daniels also guided the shaping of the piece, strengthening the drama and
developing characters. But there are still problems with the libretto. Many of
Hoffman’s images and lines are poetic but much of the rhymed verses are more
distracting than descriptive. But when he nails it, the words and music are a
The Triangle Shirtwaist fire in Manhattan serves as a framing device and a
looming presence. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle erupted in flames, killing
146 workers — mostly young immigrant women who were trapped by locked doors,
non-functioning elevators and broken fire escapes.
The opera’s prologue is a brilliant evocation of the public viewing of the
victims in the factory, which took place during a torrential downpour. Against
a background of images from that day, singers clad in raincoats and holding
black umbrellas recite accounts of what took place as the music swirls into a
The Triangle Shirtwaist fire serves as a framing device and a looming presence.
In March 1911, the Triangle erupted in flames, killing 146 workers, mostly
young immigrant women, who were trapped by locked doors, non-functioning
elevators, and broken fire escapes.
The opera’s prologue is a brilliant evocation of the public viewing of the
victims in the factory, which took place during a torrential downpour. Against
a background of images from that day, singers clad in raincoats and holding
black umbrellas recite accounts of what took place as the music swirls into a
Widow Becky Felderman presides over her family of three teenaged daughters and
a young son. Like many immigrant families, the Feldermans have a border, Aaron,
who happens to come from the same village and is a friend of the family. He
also happens to be in love with Becky.
It’s a terrific cast made up of some of the best American voices out there. Jeanine
De Bique stole the show as Pearl with a velvety, lyric mezzo that elevated her
aria “I See Colors” into a showpiece. Soprano Twyla Robinson’s Becky has a
sweetness tempered by determination and she’ll break your heart when she sings
“The Family Abides.” The daughters get
powerful performances from Elizabeth Zharoff, Jennifer Zetlan and Elizabeth
Andrew Bidlack sings the title song with great style. Andrew Lovato is a
sensitive and sympathetic Harry Engel, the unhappy husband of Sadie Felderman.
Morgan Smith is an amazing baritone and I wish that Aaron’s character had more
depth, but Smith makes it his own and it’s worth hearing.
Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design incorporates the Triangle factory and
Wendall K. Harrington’s projections are used to great effect, particularly in
the prologue and in the final ensemble in which the fire claims its victims.
Is it perfect? No. But it’s got staying power, a score with a lot of memorable
music, and this production features voices you should hear. Bravo to Cincinnati
Opera and Opera Fusion: New Works for fostering this project.
Need a good laugh this weekend? Cincinnati Shakespeare has the show you want to see: One Man Two Guvnors, based on an 18th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters. It’s a riot of slapstick, fart jokes, pratfalls, lewd innuendo and more. Francis Henshaw (Matthew Lewis Johnson) is the hapless hero, trapped between jealous bosses and a crew of comic types, each one funnier than the last. The show was an award winner London and on Broadway, where James Corden played the manic guy who can barely keep all the plates spinning. I gave this one a Critic’s Pick. Read my full review here. Tickets: 513-381-2273.In 1916, Margaret Sanger founded the organization that eventually became Planned Parenthood. She was a fearless protester for women’s rights and an ardent crusader for birth control when it was a hush-hush topic. She was often arrested for speaking frankly about sexuality. Cincinnati native Pamela Daly this weekend is presenting a one-woman show that she personally commissioned; it’s onstage at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Sanger uses the militant firebrand’s own words to dig into issues that remain inflammatory today: abortion, birth control, sex education and the plight of women. Performances on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Two cinemas weave — though not seamlessly — together in Chunhyang, South Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek’s adaptation of Chunhyangaa, a legendary Korean folktale that follows the journeys of two lovers, one poor and one aristocratic, as they face problems within Korea’s ancient class system. The two cinemas in question are traditional film cinema and pansori, a Korean storytelling custom where a vocalist tells a story accompanied by a percussionist playing a buk, a traditional Korean drum. Its roots come from the Korean for “sound” and “a place where many people gather.” In a way, this makes it a type of cinema that predates film by hundreds of years.
For me, pansori was harsh at first. It felt out of place, the grating transitions back and forth between the live pansori performance in modern day South Korea and the dramatic portrayals in 18th century Korea too cobbled-together to resemble a harmonious story. But then I surrendered to its slow, sometimes arrhythmic tempo, and its strange, lithe magic was an experience I haven’t felt in a movie since. By intertwining traditional storytelling techniques with a (somewhat) contemporary one, we as an audience are able to experience firsthand the tensions that exist in a culture between old and new.
Chunhyang is an ideal gateway film into the cinema of Korea, territory that can often seem daunting to Western moviegoers due to the century-spanning political baggage that stretches from the Joseon Dynasty to the Korean War to current events. But the sweep of the region’s moral tides encompasses a generally universal understanding, and this film is full of simultaneously heart-wrenching and understated pathos as we watch forbidden trysts and suspenseful compromises unfold. It’s a folktale, but the ache of its themes will always be, perhaps unfortunately, timeless.
There’s not too much theater going on as summer moves in with full heat. But there are enough laughs at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for several shows with the production of the great 2011 British farce, One Man Two Guvnors. It’s based on a play from the 18th century called The Servant of Two Masters, but don’t think that because it’s a classic it will be over your head. This show has slapstick, fart jokes, silly antics, sly innuendo and just about anything else that might induce laughter. Matthew Lewis Johnson is a comedy machine as the irrepressibly hungry (and hopelessly confused) Francis Henshaw, and he’s not the only one. At least a half-dozen of Cincy Shakes regulars dive into the hilarity headfirst. There’s also a great band playing tunes that sound like Pop numbers from the early 1960s; the story had been updated to the British seaside town of Brighton, where scandalous behavior was apparently the norm. Signing on to work for two bosses who have cross-purposes and connections that Francis doesn’t know about, he’s in for a raucous 24 hours as he tries to keep a lot of plates spinning — almost literally. Demand for tickets was strong from the opening last week (this show won awards in London’s West End as well as on Broadway in 2012, where James Corden played the manic Henshaw), so you’ll find two added performances to the announced schedule — this Saturday and next at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Tickets are even scarcer, apparently for The Producers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions new Incline Theater. That zany musical about trying to make money on a Broadway flop has been a big success, heavily subscribed from start to finish. You might try for the waiting list (513-241-6550), but don’t get your hopes up. Same goes for Commonwealth Theater Company’s production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University, (859-572-5464) also in its final weekend. It’s a dinner theater production, and it looks like most of the seats at that table are taken, too.
Since you can’t get into either of those, how about a free interpretation of the movie Footloose on Saturday evening? The dance troupe Pones Inc. and Gorilla Cinema have joined up to present the film in a parking lot in Covington (at West Seventh and Washington streets) starting at 8 p.m. All the inspired dance scenes from the 1984 film about teens in a town where dancing is discouraged will be performed live, and you’re welcome to join in! No charge for admission; snacks and suds available for purchase. Check out the trailer:
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Several productions onstage at the moment have been so successful that tickets are scarce, if available at all: The opening show at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, The Producers — and in fact, the Inclines three-show summer season — is heavily subscribed, so the chance of finding seats at the last minute is slim. The same goes for the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner-theater production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University. So let’s consider some other options.
I suspect your best bet for hilarity this weekend will be Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors, which opens tonight. Playwright Richard Bean struck Gold with his adaptation of a 17th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters: He shifted it to the 1960s in Brighton, England, and put a fast-talking chap seeking a quick buck and a bite to eat. His greed puts him in a sticky predicament when he ends up working for two rival masters. It’s full of physical humor, improvisation, audience interaction — and a skiffle band with live musicians. The show was a smash hit in London in 2011 (one reviewer called it “the funniest show in the Western World”). When it moved to Broadway in 2012 it was nominated for seven Tony Awards. Need an evening of laughter? This is the show for you. It’s onstage through July 5. Tickets: 513-381-2273
If you want something a tad more serious, you might want to check out The Tramp’s New World, presented by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater. It turns Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character into the sole survivor of an atomic blast. It’s a multidisciplinary piece that uses projections, physical comedy, music and silent-film technique to tell the story of the Little Tramp trying to create a new world from the ruins of the old. The show is performed by its creator, actor Rob Jansen, a Cincinnati native who spent six years in Cincy Shakes’ acting company; he performed with several companies and turned in memorable performances in Know Theatre’s productions of Corpus Christi and Angels in America. The Tramp’s New World had a well-received run in Washington, D.C., at Cultural DC’s Mead Theatre Lab, and it’s onstage here through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787
At Falcon Theater in Newport, you can see Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work imagining interactions between the real historical individuals who succeeded in shooting American presidents. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people see it slipping beyond their grasp. It’s at Newport’s Monmouth Theatre, which Falcon now owns and is renovating. Assassins is onstage through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-479-6783
We follow a Scottish cop named Howie as he visits an island in search of a missing girl, only to find his investigation upended by the villagers’ stoic failure to cooperate. Edward Woodward is Howie, a pious Christian who is disturbed when he discovers that the islanders practice an occult Pagan faith that embraces Celtic rituals to help harvest their crops. Howie is horrified as he observes villagers copulating outside, putting frogs in their mouths to cure sore throats and donning bizarre animal masks.
The film, directed by Richard Hardy, has been christened “the Citizen Kane of horror movies,” but, if we’re sticking exclusively to Orson Welles metaphors, I would say it’s more like horror’s Touch of Evil; rather than reinventing the cinematic wheel, both films instead subvert their genres' expectations (Welles with noir, Hardy with horror) in ways that ultimately establish them as the apex of what that genre can offer. The Wicker Man, like Touch of Evil, exploits low angle shots and handheld cameras to elicit its menacing undertones that make it the creepy success it is. For sure, both filmmakers are able to use budgetary confines to their benefit; The Wicker Man’s camerawork, with its slow pans, cheap set pieces and lack of contrast, can seem almost amateurish in its levity, but it justly lets the actors carry the themes.
Interestingly, the film’s action is shot mainly during the day, an effective approach that instills a sense of the macabre in the bucolic. This can later be in seen in descendants like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, another film that smudges horror and mystery in broad daylight. Diagetic folk music jangles throughout, and the carnal pressures between Howie, a virgin, and an innkeeper’s siren-daughter, Willow, are a dramatic thread that stretches taut across the parable, threatening to snap like the discordant strings heard in the film’s harrowing lyre motif.
It’s the dissonance of faith between Howie and the movie’s antagonist, Lord Summerisle, that affords the film a deserved cult status. Although he doesn't get as much screen time as he deserves, Christopher Lee’s convincing performance as the island messiah is a superb foil to Woodward’s oscillating states of prudishness and bewilderment. Unlike his Hammer Horror productions, Lee lends his thunderous baritone in an understated way, making his delusional puritanical incantations all the more perturbing and bolstering the film’s atmosphere.
Though the setting can resemble the Stone Ages (at one point there is a literal Stonehenge replica), The Wicker Man is an undeniable product of the ’70s in its aesthetics, and its wild, peculiar sexuality feels like a grotesque wink to the Summer of Love that had dissolved a few years prior. A note — the vertiginous twist that arrives in the third act of the film is much more of an experience if you avoid any of the movie’s posters, but no matter what, Lee’s most resounding line will haunt you: “Come,” he says almost without expression. “It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.”
This weekly series discusses the cultural and artistic implications of a selected foreign film.
If you watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, you will have, if nothing else, an experience. Yours might be revelatory or painful or, like mine, a bit of both. Based off of Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name, Solaris has, perhaps too often, been thought of as the Soviets’ response to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odessey. Although both films use the sci-fi genre to explore outer space frontiers as well as existential ones, Tarkovsky’s themes are much more personal and spiritual, and gravitate toward the loneliness and fragility found in humanity.
The entire plot is tensioned over the emptiness of the unknown. Set in the unspecified future, psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to check up on the two crew members there. He discovers that the planet’s oceans cause the station’s inhabitants to hallucinate, and he ends up seeing visions of his dead wife, Hari (Irma Raush). These visions haunt him until he must make the decision whether to return to Earth or descend into the desire realm of Solaris.
With glacial tracking shots and a running time of 165 minutes, watching Solaris challenges your attention span for sure, and the film’s understated acting and dialogue takes some getting used to. Honestly, I literally lost consciousness and fell asleep while watching this movie at least two times. But strangely, the cinematic aftertaste of Solaris is rich and rewarding. To me, the entire work felt more like music than cinema, eschewing narrative for aesthetic and feeling. After a while it’s easy to succumb to its languid, hypnotic rhythm.
Despite the movie’s pessimism, it evokes some breathtaking images of nature with a palette of earthy hues and filters. Tarkovsky takes advantage of the 2:35:1 aspect ratio, whether he fills it with surreal underwater plant life, foggy atmospheres or a sprawling metropolis.
Solaris is now considered a sort of masterpiece and one of the director’s more accessible films. Tarkovsky’s influence can be seen now in auteurs like Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick, whose Tree of Life shares the backdrop of the cosmos to explore human interiors and relationships. Also, in 2002, Steven Soderbergh made an American remake (don’t bother).
Perhaps most surprising is Tarkovsky’s ability to cull such an intimacy from the sterile reaches of outer space, and the way it leaves its final question unanswered — is it possible to fall in love with the concept of a person or life instead of the actuality, and is this enough?
If you prefer your theater a tad more mainstream than Fringe fare, you have several options. I particularly recommend Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It’s the final weekend for this show about five people engaged in an acting class in a small-town community center. What they learn is as much about themselves as it is about theater, and it’s sweet, profound and moving. The final performance is Saturday evening on the Shelterhouse stage. It’s the final production of the 2014-2015 season. Tickets: 513-241-3888
There are a couple of musicals you might want to catch, too. Showbiz Players is offering The Addams Family, based on the oddball cartoons of Charles Addams featured in The New Yorker (as well as an iconic TV show from the 1960s). It’s in its final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Also in Northern Kentucky, you can drop by the Monmouth Theatre in Newport to see Falcon Theater’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work about the actual historical individuals who succeeded in shooting a president. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people can’t grab ahold of it. It’s being presented through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … I’d like to recommend The Producers currently in production at the new Incline Theater in East Price Hill. It’s a delightfully silly show about showbiz. But the folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have so successfully marketed this opening production of its summer season that most performances are sold out. However, if you’re persistent, you might get your name on a waiting list by calling the box office: 513-241-6550.
They don’t expect you to do it by yourself — the winning individuals will receive a $15,000 grant to install their exhibits, and will get assistance curating their projects from the organization. They’re looking for engaging, daring ideas that capitalize on the opportunities a storefront gallery space allows. The application requires a title, a video submission, a budget and a timeline, and will be reviewed by an independent panel.
The lab, which strives to bring together “civic-minded talent to address challenges and uncover opportunities to accelerate the positive transformation of Greater Cincinnati,” underwent renovations in March.
"Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These are the opening lines to Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. They are not necessarily shocking or revelatory to readers, but instead reveal a central concern that haunts the entire story: the unknown. The novel traffics in secrets — those between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and brothers and sisters that ultimately threaten to erase a family portrait hung crookedly in the eyes of everyone else in society.
Set primarily in Midwestern Ohio during the late 1970s, Everything I Never Told You deftly examines a mixed-race family before and after a young girl is found drowned in a lake. Ng’s prose, graceful yet powerful, follows the characters as they try to make sense out of a family member’s death and their own grief. Within this narrative is a deeper one, a quietly devastating interrogation of identity and the need to belong.
Ng, who will give a reading at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Thursday at 7
p.m., spoke with me about diversity in diversity, the challenges of writing her
first novel and the metaphors to be found in hidden garbage.
This post is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with local and visiting authors.
CityBeat: How did the idea for Everything I Never Told You unfold? Did it turn out to be the same story you thought it would be when you first started writing it?
Celeste Ng: I didn’t expect culture to be such a big part of it. It wasn’t until I started to look at the family. I had an idea about a family tragedy that would happen, and when I started to write about the family I knew that they were a mixed-race family. That was sort of surprising to me.
CB: One thing I enjoyed about the novel was how you took a mystery framework to explore more literary themes of identity and race. Can you talk about that choice of exploring your topics with that aspect of crime/thriller genre?
CN: I never intended to write a mystery or a thriller. What I’ve always been interested in with my fiction is family relationships, and how families react to each other. How parents and children get each other, don’t get each other, drive each other crazy. It’s that idea that introduced that mystery element into it — I wanted to look at how a family might deal with a tragedy.
CB: What kind of research did you do for the novel?
CN: In terms of getting the details right, I grew up in the early ’80s so a lot of things came from memory — the telephone cords and the record player that skips a little, all that sort of stuff. I researched the history of interracial marriage and about how it’s become more common. That’s when I learned that it wasn’t legal in the United States until 1967, which was a real surprise to me. For the characters themselves, I did the kind of research that writers do, which is just digging deeper and deeper into the characters, writing them until I felt like I knew what they would do or say.
CB: Another thing I noticed throughout the book was how adept you were at weaving between past and present tenses. You begin the novel at the middle, with Lydia’s death, and that’s what everything else in the story orbits. Was this challenging?
CN: I’m glad you mentioned that, because it was actually the main thing that I struggled with in writing the novel. I wrote four drafts of the novel, but the story basically stayed the same throughout — what really changed was the structure. The past imbues the present and the present echoes the past, and so I knew that there was a lot in the family’s background that I wanted to explore, and that was part of the story just as much as the story of what happened after Lydia’s death. And so I had to figure out a way to fuse this together so that the reader could see the connections between present and past. It took a lot of experimenting and restructuring and revising.
CB: Why did you set the story in the past, in ’70s Midwestern Ohio? How would the story be different today, with technology and more access to books like yours?
CN: As I was getting to know the family and the issues they were facing, I found the ’70s was a period that encapsulated that. It was a period where women would see their daughters getting opportunities that they themselves had missed out on. I don’t know if this a story that couldn’t happen today. I would like to think so — I think we’ve made a lot of progress — but another thing I researched was how public attitudes toward interracial marriage had been changing, and it was only very recently — I think in 1997 that a majority of people felt OK with interracial marriage, which is kind of mind-blowing to me, because I remember 1997, you know. I would like to think that things would be a lot different for the family now, but a lot of the issues about viewing cultures and balancing personal life and dreams with children — these are still issues that are with us.
CB: Is your recent success validating to you as a writer, and do you think it might change the way you write? Do you feel the need to keep or appeal to a wider audience now that you’ve reached this level of recognition?
CN: That’s a great question. The answer to how it feels to get all of this is probably surreal — that’s the best adjective I can come up with. I work alone, in my house or in the corner in the library and I write these things from my head, not knowing if anyone else will believe them or will ever connect with them, and so to have the book go out into the world and have a lot of people connect with it has been really amazing and kind of mind-blowing. I say to my husband, ‘Is it possible that I am having a very, very vivid waking dream, and I’m just hallucinating this?’ and he very nicely says, ‘It’s possible, but seems unlikely that that’s happening.’ I’m just kind of touched and thrilled, and that sounds very boring and cliché but it’s true. If it’s changing my writing, I don’t know yet. I’ve started to work on another novel but it’s on pause at the moment while I’m on book tour. But I’m thinking about it a lot, and I have to see if it changes my writing style. I like to think that it won’t, but that just having written a book will have taught me something.
CB: In 2010, before publishing your novel, you wrote an essay published in Huffington Post titled “Why I Don’t Want to be the Next Amy Tan.” After publishing the book, have people seen you as the next Amy Tan, or have things changed?
CN: You know what, no one has made that comparison, and I don’t know if that’s because they went and Googled me and they found that and decided not to do it or not. Amy Tan and I are both Chinese-American women writers and we write about families, but we write very different kinds of books. We have different subjects, even if broadly speaking we are writing about the same thing — families. When you get into particulars, we’re very different authors, and so I would rather be compared to Tan in terms of language style and technique, but I don’t think our books are a lot alike. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve been very encouraged in the past few years to see that people have been moving away from that kind of comparison — that there is Amy Tan and then she will be replaced by the next Amy Tan. That there can be diversity within diversity, that there can be lots of Asian American voices, and they can all be somewhat different from each other. That it something that is more possible now that wasn’t even an issue up for discussion a few years ago.
CB: Who are your general influences in storytelling, literary or not?
CN: There are some readers I love to read as a writer to study, but I also read because I love their work. Toni Morrison is one of them — I think she does an amazing job at writing about really big important subjects and always keeping it on a human level and making the writing beautiful. There’s a book called The God of Small Things by an Indian writer named Arundhati Roy, which again I love as a reader and teach from it. I pick it up to find passages I want to give to my students and I just end up reading it at the bookshelf because I love it so much. She handles language in such an amazing way and she moves through time in away that was an inspiration for the book. I looked at that a lot as a touchstone to figure out — how do I weave together past and present? I watch a lot of TV, so I like seeing some of the long form TV shows that have developed over a long season. I’m a huge Downtown Abbey fan — it’s so soapy, but it’s on PBS and so you feel very virtuous when you’re watching it. There’s something about watching characters develop in that long arc in shows like Mad Men or Sopranos. Writers tend to sort of downplay TV as an insulin, but I feel that film and TV do influence the way I tell a story in the way you cut back and forth between characters or in the way that you show things. So that’s an influence for sure.
CB: You mentioned a book you were working on earlier, can you talk more about that project?
CN: I think it’s going to be another family story, set in my hometown of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. It’s very pretty, there are lots of trees and beautiful houses, and they like it that way. What comes along with all that beauty and trying to be progressive and consciously working to be diverse is that there’s also a lot of focus on appearance and worry about what other people will think. They have these tiny little golf-cart sized garbage trucks that drive down every driveway to pick up the garbage in the back and bring it up to the truck in the front. There’s never garbage in the front, and I feel like that’s really metaphorically rich, that you have to keep your garbage hidden. So I think it’s going to involve a family that’s living in this community and then a mother and daughter come in from outside and have secrets, and about the way those two families get kind of intertwined and tangled.
CB: That whole environment sort of reminds me of Twin Peaks, going back to that TV influence.
CN: Exactly — there are other things too, like you were only allowed to paint your house certain colors so that the entire street could be harmonious aesthetically. They don’t do that anymore, but there’s still a lot of things like that there.
CB: Is there a question you wish someone would ask you about your work that hasn’t been asked yet?
CN: One question I was asked in an interview and then I was sad that they cut it was after being asked if there would be a movie of my book, who would I want to be in it? I can tell you the news that was just made official about a week and a half ago — the film rights have sold to Relativity Media, a studio in L.A. So I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. One of the things that excites me a lot about the fact that the book might become a movie — besides the fact that that’s cool — there would be roles for Asian Americans and mixed Asian actors, and I feel that right now those people are on the sidelines as extras, or maybe the sidekick. And so it would be really cool for someone like John Cho to play James the father. That’s what I’m excited about — the idea that maybe this could be a place where Asian American or mixed Asian actors could get roles, that there would be a spotlight for them.
CB: The whole prospect must be terrifying and wonderful, having your film in someone else’s hands.
CN: It is, but I’m trying to think of it as its own thing. I love film adaptations, and what I love about them the most is when they take the opportunity to make a slightly different thing. It’s like when you cover a song: it’s better when they don’t try to sound exactly like the original. When they do something completely different with it, that’s when I think it’s cool, and so I think of the movie as its own thing. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it.
Celeste Ng will read at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on June 4 at 7 p.m.