GENseng's Kimchee and Chitlins explores Korean, black racial tension

Geneseo's Asian-American performance ensemble (GENseng) production Kimchee and Chitlins, is the last theater production of the season, and one not to be missed. After impressive introduction dances from both G-Steppers and Geneseo Bhangra, the cast of Kimchee and Chitlins enters the theater to the sound of newsroom music and takes their places on the stage.

They do a fantastic job balancing the play's terrible tensions and twisted humor to make it a well rounded and thoughtful show.

"There's no right or wrong in this play," said senior Joan Manplaisir who plays Reverend Carter. "Everyone's right and everyone's wrong. We let the audience decide that, but if we've done our job they won't be able to choose."

The story follows Suzie Seeto, a Chinese reporter played by senior Nancy Kim as she investigates the boycott of a Korean grocery store by a number of black people.The Black Box floor has been painted to look like a crossroads in the middle of two city streets. On one end sit three cast members representing the Koreans, on the other side three more cast members represent the black members of the protest.

"There are not a lot of plays about race," said junior Rebekah Weiler who plays news anchor Tara Sullivan, "and there aren't a lot of plays that have such a blending of ethnicities in the cast."

It was initially hard for the members of the cast, who are all good friends, to get angry at each other in order to stay true to the feeling of the play. Then the cast went to see Wet Sand, a documentary shown in Geneseo on Nov. 8 about the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles.

"It was the best thing I did to inspire me," said senior Michael D. Rehor who plays Suzie's boss, Mark Thompson and the other cast members agreed.

Understanding what tensions ran through those riots helped them dredge up the anger they needed to make the play convincing and unsettling. The audience is lit by stage lights for the entire play, "To make them think about their reactions," said Rehor.

The play is meant to force the audience to think about a lot of uncomfortable and powerful issues that many people would like to pretend aren't an issue at all.

"There may not be actual rioting," said junior Jason Park, who plays the Korean store owners' nephew, "but there's still racism. The character Reverend Carter institutionalizes racism, and that's how it is today."

"The play is important because people can experience in-your-face race issues with comedy," said Kim. Instead of the play just preaching its feelings on the matter, it tries to get the audience to laugh while at the same time making them realize that racism is an on-going problem that needs to be addressed.

The story also deals with issues of gender.

As senior Carmen Chan explained, some of the characters "are oppressed within our own people." Manplaisir points out that the play is also interesting because "Race issues are usually between whites and minorities while the racism in this play takes place between two minorities."

The play doesn't have a stereotypical happy ending, because it never could. There are a lot of disturbing moments where the blacks and the Koreans echo each other with chants like "The boogie man is here inside you, inside me. Make the boogie man go away!"

The play also delves into the culture of both groups, and the similarities that they can't see because they are so focused on their differences. Director Dr. Randy Kaplan and her cast do a fantastic job of bringing these issues to light through Kimchee and Chitlins. The play runs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and admission is $6. It is worth the price of a ticket to see a play this intelligent.