nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
January 10, 2008
"Asian woman are the other white meat" is the phrase that, according to the press materials, playwright/performer Joyce Wu used as a jumping-off point for her new mixed-media work Fetish, from Mir Productions. In it, Wu attempts to take a harsh look at racial stereotypes through the prism of sexual attraction in both her script and the pornographic images that appear throughout the piece. Despite the incendiary nature of the broad categories of race, sex, and violence, this piece ultimately comes across bland and formulaic, and fails to reveal anything insightful about these complicated topics. Wu's choice to make the characters no deeper than stereotypes themselves truly undermines any emotional heft and leaves no real impact at the final curtain.
The plot of Fetish involves the lives of a mixed-race couple, Asian American Sofie (Wu) and white guy Matt (Jacob Troy), who are engaged. Matt works at an investment firm, while Sofie apparently is an unemployed former East Village performance artist who chooses to pad around the house in her bare feet, and also in a kimono. Ironically, Sofie is constantly angry about being portrayed as a one-dimensional sex object simply because she is Asian, yet as written she has no other discernable characteristics. Enter Matt's black best friend Dion (LeVon Fickling), who is having trouble getting a job and enlists Matt to help. When Matt comes through with both a prime position and a special project for Dion, his blue collar co-worker James (Michael Lutton) decides to sabotage the relationships of all three of them via sexual jealousy. James develops a Iago-esque plot that implies a sexual liaison between Dion and Sofie that would drive Matt mad, a la Othello, the acknowledged inspiration for this play.
But Fetish, stiffly directed by Julianne Just, feels like a work-in-progress that could have used a lot more time to develop. Wu tends to overemphasize her points about race through the narrow-minded dialogue that comes from the mouths of both James and Sofie. Matt is the "voice of reason" when it comes to race during 90 percent of the play, so that when his emotional tables turn near the play's climax, it feels completely unnatural. There is very little sexual tension between Dion and Sofie (though their friendship chemistry is great) so that part of the plot doesn't seem to fly. Wu's strongest suit is her acerbic humor when it comes to the racial and sexual stereotypes, but there just isn't enough of it to keep the play moving. And the mixed-media element, which holds so much promise, feels gratuitous (especially with the pornography) and adds nothing to the dialogue. If there were more subtlety in the script, then the video underscoring could have a much stronger impact.
To her credit (and to Mir's), Wu's themes are both extraordinarily ambitious and hard to tackle. There is a real issue of race in America that may, unfortunately, always be with us, and those stereotypes are hard to erase. I just don't feel that Fetish, in its current incarnation, has added much that's positive to the debate.