By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment Editor
He wasn’t going anywhere, even if he wanted, so Peter Kuo had plenty of time to discuss his return to Los Angeles. Soaking up the sun at an outdoor table at Señor Fish in South Pasadena on Tuesday, the director of East West Players’ current production chatted while waiting for the Auto Club to arrive and deal with his flat tire.
“It’s great to be back, even though I haven’t really been gone that long,” said Kuo, while flashing his trademark chuckle. “I received an offer to direct on the main stage at East West, and I had not done that before, so it was a great opportunity.”
The 32-year-old South Pas native relocated to New York last summer, to pursue his master’s degree in fine arts at the New School for Drama. Having left his position in marketing at EWP in 2009, he worked at the South Coast Repertory in Orange County and still found time to establish his own theater company, Artists at Play.
Kuo is in the director’s chair for the world premiere of Nandita Shenoy’s “Washer/Dryer,” running through March 15 at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo. He said he knew a bit about the play, but when the offer to direct came along, he couldn’t let it slip past.
“I was aware it was part of the new season, but I didn’t know much about it,” he explained. “When they sent me the script, I read it and I loved it. It draws on a lot of quick banter, calling back to writers like Neil Simon and that generation, but with a fresh perspective.”
With a cast that includes Ewan Chung, Karen Huie and Rachna Khatau, “Washer/Dryer” finds newlyweds dealing with the effect of external family and factors on their relationship, with bouts of misunderstandings leading to comedic mayhem. Kuo said the unifying point in the story is the title appliance itself, but there are situations that will be instantly familiar to different audience members at different points.
“You learn pretty quickly that the important piece is the washer-dryer itself, and how important that is to the different characters in the play,” he said. “What’s been great with the audiences in the first few shows is that there have been laughs all the way through, and especially in the spots where we know there should be laughs.
“I think because this is a multicultural environment and the circumstances are so relatable, you can hear pockets of people who have gone through the various situations laughing throughout the house. Of course, there are the big jokes that everyone gets, but there are also the little ones that maybe the Indian Americans get, or the Chinese Americans get, or maybe the parents of the gay child understand. It’s great to hear them as they react.”
Kuo said his return to East West Players finds him wearing quite a different hat from his previous duties within the organization.
“It’s very different to have been on the administrative side at EWP and now be on the artistic side,” he said. “It’s a different beast, and there are different challenges as well as different rewards. I really enjoy it.”
As this is the world premiere of the play, Kuo said he’s had the luxury of the show’s creator being on hand from the outset.
“It’s been a lot of fun going through reads and rehearsals. This is the first time in a while that I’ve done a full-length show and it’s great having [Shenoy] there the whole time. She’s so smart, and we really have a symbiotic relationship. She’s there to make rewrites on the spot or answer any questions. Being able to get her thoughts and feedback going through the process has been helpful, and really a lot of fun.”
Kuo brushed off any ideas that he’s in charge, now that he’s the one billed as director.
“I just show up and direct,” he said, laughing broadly. “It’s a different spot on a different totem pole. It’s great to read a play, to have thoughts about it and then see people implement your ideas. It’s a very satisfying feeling.”
“Washer/Dryer” from East West Players is currently running Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances will be staged at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles. Tickets may be purchased online at www.eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000. Regular tickets range from $28-$38. Student and senior discounts available. Dates, prices and details are subject to change.