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FROM THIS EPISODE

Two facts you need to know before you go see "Soft Power" David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori's new musical at the Ahmanson.

One, weeks after the 2016 election, playwright David Henry Hwang was walking home in Brooklyn when he was brutally and mysteriously stabbed in the neck - this really happened.

Two, that election? Hillary Clinton didn't win.

Both these facts are critical dramaturgical departure points for "Soft Power."

The setup for the show is a little complicated - but it all pays off, so stick with me.

It's 2016 at the start of “Soft Power” and David Henry Hwang, who’s a character in his own play, is submitting a spec TV script to a Chinese production company. They're looking for a little bit of soft power cultural diplomacy. They want a global hit that uses the American cultural delivery system to spread Chinese values. The trouble is Mr. Hwang can't think that way. Even though he's Chinese-American - that American part keeps trumping everything.

And besides, he's got a ticket that night to see the "next president of the United States" - Hillary Clinton. It's right after a benefit performance of "The King and I" - you know that charming American musical where a white foreigner endears herself to the leader of an exotic country, falls in love and ends up fixing everything wrong in the King's government. Gosh, it's cool being white.

In any case, as you may have noticed, Hillary Clinton did not become the next president of the United States.

Walking home a couple weeks after the election David Henry Hwang (the character) is stabbed by a stranger. As he struggles to walk to the hospital without bleeding to death he enters sort of a fantastical dream-state - he imagines an American musical, using that emotional delivery system of song and dance but told from a Chinese perspective of a gun-riddled, politically dysfunctional America.

The result is what a Saturday Night Live skit might look like if it were written by two Tony-award winning theater makers and brought to life by a fantastically talented Asian-American cast who could tap all the power of the American musical to create a biting satire.

"Soft Power" is wonderfully sophisticated while at the same time embracing a fun irreverence - that's it's own soft power. Inside of a light-hearted song and dance show it manages to skewer our current regime, the cultural myopia and racism of America, our ridiculous gun-culture, and for good measure the inscrutability of the electoral college.

If you find yourself outraged and exhausted by a never-ending stream of depressing political news - "Soft Power" might be the perfect antidote. Not because it avoids the political but because it so powerfully captures the absurdity of our present moment, allowing us to laugh at our predicament while calling us to account. And hopefully, reminding us what's truly important about our fragile democracy.

And all of this inside of entertaining, emotionally moving, wonderfully improbable musical love story . . . well, I guess when you step back it's no more improbable than a nanny falling in love with a King and fixing everything in his country.

You need to see this show ...then in six months you can say to your New York friends with pride "Oh yeah, I saw the world premiere in LA, great show."

"Soft Power" plays at the Ahmanson Theater downtown through June 10th.

Photo courtesy of Center Theatre Group.

CREDITS

Host:
Anthony Byrnes

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