The Kaplan Interview: On Kimchee and Chitlins

The Lamron sat down with professor Randy Kaplan, director of this fall's GENseng production, Kimchee and Chitlins, to discuss the production, the play itself, and the direction GENseng is going. (See review of Kimchee and Chitlins on page 8.)

The Lamron: What should people expect from Kimchee and Chitlins?

Randy Kaplan: I think they should expect to laugh, and I think they should expect to be uncomfortable. And one of the reasons they should expect to be uncomfortable is because we leave the lights on, on the audience. So the lights go out, we go house to half, house out, and when the lights come up, the lights come up on everybody. And the reason behind that is because of all the issues, and this is a play that deals with a lot of issues; racial issues, economic issues, gender issues. I think we should not sit in the dark, and hide from each other. So every time the light comes up on the actors, the audience is in full light also. And the audience is sitting in four corners of the black box theatre, so no two people in the theatre can possibly have the same perceptive on the action that they see. Which is kind of reminiscent of what the play is saying, you know, there's a conflict which happens. The main action of the play is inspired by a 1992 African America boycott of a Korean green-grocer in Flatbush Brooklyn. And nobody really knew what happened inside that store. There was no video tape, there was no objective way of measuring what the truth was. And so as the story gets repeated through the community, people have different economic takes on it, ethnic takes on it, gender takes on it. So, no two of us watching this play will have the same perspective on the action, or if there's blame, who's to blame, who started it, how do we get out of it. So the audience should be prepared to do a lot of thinking. But they should also expect, you know, there are a lot of funny things in the play, too. There's a lot of fun stuff in it, but you have to work hard and think.

The Lamron: How has this cast been different from past ones?

RK: This has been the greatest cast ever. I just love this cast. We have a lot of newcomers. We have people who have never acted in their lives, not even in high school. We have people who have done many GENsengs, and everybody in between. But from the beginning this cast has been so tight, and so unified in what we want to say to the world, that all of the racial issues really became secondary to us. We have been really, really close. It's not the first time I've done a show that's multi-ethnic, and its not the first show the department has done that's multi-ethnic, I mean Tracers was multi-ethnic. The race issues in Tracers were sort of tangential to the war veteran experience and here racial issues are here right in the middle.

The Lamron: Why did you put on this play right now?

RK: I had the cast, I had the actors. It's a fun play to do. Whenever you pick a GENseng, you pick for cast size, composition for the cast, what the play is saying. This is actually a revival of a GENseng that was done in 2001 as a staged reading. And because it is a play that really very specifically references race you can't do color-blind casting. You have to have three people to play the Korean chorus, three people to play the black chorus, and one extra Asian-American woman to play the Chinese-American reporter. And you must have two white actors, the news director and the anchor woman are white. You must have that, you can't change the race of any character, or the play will fall apart. So I had the actors to do it, and when you have the actors to do it, you strike when the iron is hot. It just pains me that we have to keep revisiting these racial issues over and over again, and what the play has to say is really simple in the end. And I won't mention it because I want people to come and see the play, but its very simple. I think America is obsessed with race in ways that aren't healthy.

The Lamron: What type of research did you conduct to prepare for this production?

RK: A lot on the 1992 boycott. There's a lot of history and sociology, and it was great having Dai Sil Kim-Gibson here on Nov. 8 because, even though her research is more about the Los Angeles uprisings and less about the New York City boycotts, there are a lot of parallels. And I got a lot of insight from talking to her and reading her stuff. I looked at issues of corporate power, sexism in the workplace, there's gender issues, marginalization of women of color. I'm also the grandchild of immigrants; I know how hard immigrants worked to come over here. Spike Lee's Bamboolzed was also a part of our preparation, with its message of [the] selling of black America.

The Lamron: What direction is GENseng taking?

RK: One of the things I'm really excited about for GENseng is we're starting, for the first time, we're looking at creating original pieces. Right now I'm in the process of working to create two original pieces. One of these, which doesn't have a title yet, is based on oral history recorded by the Asian Pacific American History Project in Rochester. It's about immigrants of Asian decent coming to the Rochester area. So I'm working APA-HiP to generate a performance text based on those memories and archives. It's going to take a while. I'm sort of the author of that, but I'm really just shaping the words of these Asian-American citizens. All different ethnicities, all different generations, men, women, etc. The other one that I'm really excited about happens to not be by an Asian-American playwright, it's by a Caucasian playwright, and it's title is Journey to the North. This is based on an actual historical event. There was a Jewish community in Kiahong China for many centuries and nobody knows much about them. The play is concerned with cultural misunderstanding, because what's underneath them is that we are more alike than we are different. It's a comedy of errors. My friend, who is neither Chinese nor Jewish, has just finished the treatment [script precursor]. There's a monkey-king character in it, and Beijing Opera in it, there's all kind of neat and cool stuff in it, and I really want to produce it. GENseng will have a world premiere!