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TAGs, Twinkies, and Cultural Baggage

Where am I from? I'm from Montana. That is, I was born there, but I grew up in Southern California (and Hawaii). Oh -- you mean where are my parents from? Michigan and Montana, but their families are mainly German and English, I think. Oh, you mean what's my culture? Montanan, I guess. Is that a culture? Where are YOU from anyway?

This question usually elicits complex responses today, and verges on the impolite. People who may look like they are "F.O.B." to some get asked this all the time, and quickly learn to translate the question into "where's your family from?" Or "you're not really 'from here', are you?" Or "you don't look American." Or even "do you speak English?" But F.O.B. definitely ain't what it used to be -- nobody takes boats to get here, for starters.

The characters in "F.O.P. (Fresh Off the Plane)", a new play by local playwright, director and producer Sean Lim, now being presented at the Magic Theater in Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, make us ask ourselves where we're from (really), as they struggle to come up with their own answers to this question. "F.O.P." is a provocative, tight, funny, and well-paced play in two acts that exposes the internal conflicts inherent in being Asian American today.

In the first act, the main character James (Daniel Lee), on a Korean Air flight back to Korea to attend his grandfather's funeral, finds himself sitting next to bitchy, airhead, Trendy Asian Girl Joyce (Karla Acosta). The two immediately set to crabbing at each other with a Hepburn/Tracy kind of frisson that belies not budding love, but what turns out to be an altogether different kind of connection. In cleverly alternating dialog and soliloquies laced with irony, anger, condescension, parody, and a dash of self-loathing, James and Joyce vividly convey the angst of their lives through detailed descriptions of the dating and mating patterns of their cohort. However, as the long flight drags on, they drop their defenses, apologize, and get to know each other better.

The second act is a delightful and evidently autobiographical flash forward. James, the Korean American playwright ensconced over the typewriter in the back of his parents' Los Angeles Korean restaurant, is discussing his newest work with his entire theater troupe, which consists of himself and a total of two erstwhile collaborators: Joyce and Ulysses. Unfortunately, James is still stuck in humorless "issues-driven" plays that have driven his thespian colleagues to their limits. They exhort him to do something more lighthearted, to poke fun at the culture, to add some hip-hop or something. James, indignantly clinging to the virtues of "pure" theater will have none of it. Joyce kind of sums it all up by asking "why can't we just be Asian and American without having weird feelings about it?"

In the program notes to the play, Mr. Lim talks about his drive to present something that's in pointedly short supply -- "three dimensional representations of Asian Americans." This could be the rallying cry for the Asian American Theater Company and other similar organizations. They've found an eloquent, caring, and very capable voice in Sean Lim and his clear and honest script.

"F.O.P. ( Fresh Off the Plane)" and "F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat)"
Presented by the Asian American Theater Co.
Magic Theater
runs March 24 - April 10
$25 general, $12.50 student/senior