East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theatre of color in the country and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work, announces the cast and creative team for the West Coast premiere of “Kentucky,” which The New York Times has praised as “the full-length debut of a distinctive new voice — mouthy, sly and bourbon sweet, with the expected kick.”
Written by Leah Nanako Winkler and directed by Deena Selenow, “Kentucky” begins preview performances on Nov. 10, with opening night on Nov. 16, and runs until Dec. 11.
“Kentucky” is part of “Radiant,” EWP’s 51st anniversary season, which focuses on stories by and about women.
“‘Kentucky’ is a story about home, redemption, and finding the best version of yourself. I’m so excited to share ‘Kentucky’ with a new audience, especially at East West Players, where two hapa sisters will take center stage,” said Winkler. “I’ve been a huge fan of EWP for as long as I’ve been a playwright, and having an often painfully personal, loud, eclectic play of mine as part of this season is truly a dream come true. I’m especially thrilled to uncover new layers within a nine-person ensemble playing multiple characters for the first time ever.”
“‘Kentucky’ is written by a unique and bold new voice in the American theater,” said EWP Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “Leah’s play is hilariously subversive and heartfelt, depicting a clash of cultures from Japanese to Southern and from the city to the heartland. These juxtapositions are what make ‘Kentucky’ an authentically American story. There are so few plays that feature hapa characters front and center. It’s a beautiful, funny, and endearing coming-of-age story.”
Hiro is a single, nearly 30, self-made woman making it in New York as a marketing executive after a traumatic upbringing in Kentucky. After seven years of being estranged from her family, she returns home to be the maid of honor in her sister Sophie’s wedding. As her therapist predicts, Hiro gets sucked into a whirlwind of toxic family drama, which she thought she had left behind.
First, there’s her emotionally unstable father, who berates everyone, especially Hiro’s mild-mannered mother. Then there’s Sophie, her born-again Christian baby sister, who super loves Jesus and a fiancée she barely knows. What happens when egos collide before the wedding? There’s nothing that anti-anxiety pills and whiskey can’t fix — or not. Identity, religion, and love collide in this rollicking story about family, relationships, and roots.
Making their EWP debuts are Jessica Jade Andres (“The Mindy Project,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Gossip Girl,” and the Emmy Award-winning “Lizzie Bennet Diaries”) as Hiro; Jacqueline Misaye (Sam Shepard’s “Cowboy Mouth” and Sam Henry Kass’ “An Actor’s Guide to Survival”) as Sophie; theater veteran James Harnagel (The Centre Theater Group’s “The House of Blue Leaves”) as James; Christian Telesmar as Da’Ran; Mel Hampton (Theatre Unleashed’s “Telemachus, Friend”) as Pastor Ernest; Daniel Rubiano as Adam/Larry; Megan Rippey as Grandma/Laura/Bridesmaid 1; and Jenapher Zheng as Nicole/Bridesmaid 2/Sylvie. Dian Kobayashi (EWP’s “Steel Magnolias”) will play Masako.
Selenow has directed productions at REDCAT and La Jolla Playhouse WoW Festival, and is an inaugural member of Theatre Communications Group’s SPARK Leadership Program.
The production team also includes Sara Ryung Clement (scenic designer), whose upcoming projects include set design for “Vietgone” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Hilda Kane (lighting design), whose credits include “Mary Bridget Davies Live in Concert” at the Pasadena Playhouse; Howard Ho (sound designer), whose EWP credits include “Washer/Dryer” and “Criers for Hire”; Lena Sands (costume design), who has designed for “Riot/Rebellion” at The Los Angeles Theatre Center; Glenn Michael Baker (prop master), who recently worked on “Stuart Little” for the Lewis Family Playhouse; and Brandon Cheng (Stage Manager), who most recently worked with EWP on “Mama Bares in Concert: Once Upon a Playdate” and “Road to Kumano” (in collaboration with TaikoProject).
All performances will be staged at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St. (between First and Temple) in Little Tokyo. Previews are Nov. 10 to 13, with 8 p.m. shows from Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. matinee shows from Saturday to Sunday. All preview seats are $25. Opening night is Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. “Pay-what-you-can” performance is on Friday, November 25, at 8 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased at www.eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000, making sure to mention any wheelchair/accessible seating needs. Student and senior discounts are available. Ticket prices range from $35 to $50.