“You and I both know that if you leave here and talk shit about this play, people will just assume you’re racist,” says K in Fragmented, a new play by Karissa Murrell Myers (who also plays K) and directed by Spencer Ryan Diedrick (with assistance from Daniella Wheelock) that explores the condition of being a “Half Filipino, Half European American” actress from Boise, Idaho, who now lives and works in Chicago. In the same section, K notes, “Analyzing hundreds of microaggressions—and macroaggressions—and deciding which ones to assault you people with is not my idea of fun.” But K persists, and the result is a defensive, defiant, sometimes funny, sometimes pedantic hour of work, presented through the Our Perspective playwriting initiative, part of the AA Arts Incubator Program of Asian Improv Arts Midwest (AIRMW).
Fragmented lives up to its title—fragments of scenes, each depicting a facet of being hapa in (mostly) Middle America, the essence of which is contradiction: The indignity and ubiquity of the question, “What are you?” The rage and despair of not quite belonging to any one culture. The trendiness and troublesomeness of being “ethnically ambiguous” at a white theater audition. The phony opportunity of tokenism. If you’re a person of color in America, you get this. It’s your life.
So what are you going to do about it? The primary mode of expression in Fragmented is the callout, almost as if each scene were a meme crossed with a Stuff White People Say video. “It’s so hard being a white actress when theater companies want to go ethnic, you know?” says one Actual Real White Person (Brennan Urbi, who also plays Dad, K’s brother, and other characters). “I mean, we all get so many chances to do plays by Noel Coward and Neil Simon. You know what I mean, right?” says Another Real White Person (Emily Marso, who also plays Mom, K’s sister, and other characters with chameleonic precision). This strategy may be satisfying if you find memes an effective mode of communication—their abundance in contemporary culture would seem to indicate that we have a need to shout through and be shouted at by cartoons. However, outrage quickly expressed quickly exhausts itself before developing into story, which tends to involve change.
The most compelling fragments of Fragmented are thus the scenes in which the characters actually speak to each other: K and her siblings chatting in the car on the way to the airport, reminiscing about old games of Oregon Trail and shopping at Waremart, interviewing each other about growing up hapa in the conservative midwest, wondering whether getting called “Pinoy” is racist or not. “I was confused so I only half-laughed. Because I was too embarrassed to ask what it meant,” admits J (Urbi). The lightness of the dialogue makes the revelation of the reason for their reunion punch that much harder when it finally comes. And just as quickly, as if real pain were too raw to be given space to emerge, the play dashes back to the surface. v