Identity is a messy business. Local playwright Jessica Huang identifies herself as white, Jewish, and Chinese. For a long time, her multi-faceted ancestry proved problematic as she struggled to fit into each of these cultures, never feeling at home within any of them. Growing up, she consistently felt lost and isolated, outside of any one culture. She craved connection and belonging.
Huang’s trying on of different identities took an unexpected turn when a stranger approached her and identified her as a fellow hapa, a term that comes from the Hawaiian pidgin word for “part” or “mixed.” This encounter turned out to be revelatory for Huang. She soon embraced the term hapa not only because it aptly described her mixed background, but also because the term allowed her to accept her diversity as a comfortable whole. She discovered a community of hapas—a multicultural, multiracial group of people who owned their mixed backgrounds with pride. Within this single word, Huang finally came to find home.
It is this journey towards wholeness that propelled Huang to write Purple Cloud, the world premiere play presented by Mu Performing Arts and now playing at Mixed Blood Theatre. The play is not explicitly autobiographical, but the feelings, emotions, dreams and visions of the play certainly stem from Huang’s personal experiences and her fervent desire to affirm her own unique identity.
It is painful, difficult, but ultimately rewarding work to explore and embrace one’s identity.
According to Huang, “Purple Cloud is about the strange, isolating and all-too-common experience of being different, of being confused, of searching for belonging. It is about the beautiful, difficult work a family does to love and accept each other.” The play, a layered journey across generations, tackles these themes head-on. A modern day chorus of jade pieces effectively advance three intertwining stories, taking on secondary roles and infusing the show with commentary, humor, and insight.
Meghan Kreidler, in the lead role as the rebellious, searching Hapa Girl delivers a tender, nuanced performance. She is most vibrant and compelling when starring in her very own “reality show”: Hapa Hapa Gourmet. Here she energetically mixes up some very real, but also very metaphorical, fried rice. (Note: come hungry! Intermission promises a tasty treat.) Rich Remedios, as Hapa Girl’s rigid and confused father, and Alex Galick as her beloved Grandpa Lee, also turn in strong, emotionally-charged performances.
Much is made in Purple Cloud about names: the names we are given and the names we give ourselves. It takes courage, Huang asserts, to wrestle with these names. It is painful, difficult, but ultimately rewarding work to explore and embrace one’s identity. In Purple Cloud, Huang concludes that a mixed cultural background doesn’t need to feel fragmented, but can exist, powerfully, as a whole and complete “other.”
Purple Cloud plays through December 20 at Mixed Blood Theatre. For tickets and information, visit muperformingarts.org.