As part of the cast of Flower Drum Song, Wesley Mouri plays Wang Ta, the son of a Chinese opera actor and immigrant to San Francisco named Wang Chi-Yang. Ta is in love with Chinese American showgirl Linda Low but also falling for a new immigrant from China, Wu Mei-Li.
Recently, we asked Wes, “What is most meaningful for you about the role that you play in Flower Drum Song–whether it be your particular character role, your overall role of being part of the production, or both?”
Here is his answer:
Flower Drum Song centers around Asian American theater performers fighting for representation and acceptance in a white majority society, while still desperately trying to uphold and honor the traditions of their ancestors before them. To some, it may sound like a dated plot line; but for Asian artists living in 2017, the struggle has not changed.
Representation of Asian stories, starring Asian characters, played by Asian actors is missing from the American theater. I know that might come across as a generalized and overly bold statement, but the Asian community in America has often been cited as “The Invisible Minority.” Cultural upbringing has created a “don’t speak up, don’t stand out, just put your head down and work hard” mentality for Asian Americans. Whenever an Asian person speaks up about discrimination, people respond by saying, “All of the stereotypes about Asians are positive! You’re really good at math and the girls are sexy and you know kung fu!” This only perpetuates the stereotypes of Asian characters in the media. Nerdy, de-masculinized men. Sexualized Asian schoolgirls. Mystic foreign martial arts masters. This is why a show like Flower Drum Song is so relevant and important to produce in our modern society.
Three-dimensional characters, with high stakes objectives. Romantic entanglements. Standing center stage and delivering a show stopper. These are opportunities that are taken for granted by many actors, but for the Asian performer, these opportunities often never arise. Asians can be the mysterious native (i.e., Bloody Mary in South Pacific), the sterilized simpleton (i.e., Chinese Laundrymen in Thoroughly Modern Millie), or the “Engrish”- speaking comic relief (i.e., Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, Mrs. Swan from MadTV, The “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra” Waiters in A Christmas Story, Mrs. Kim from Gilmore Girls, Rajesh Koothrapali from The Big Bang Theory, etc., etc., etc.) .For the Asian American performer, playing a leading role in any form of media is a huge deal.
I’m playing a character named Wang Ta. He desperately wants to honor his father and maintain the Chinese opera traditions but also yearns to join the modern world with his “bold and brassy nightclub show.” He is head over heels in love with the unabashed Linda Low, yet also finds himself drawn to innocent and pure Mei-Li. On top of all that, he is struggling to pursue his American dream while holding on to his Chinese roots. Can someone be 100% Chinese AND 100% American? Now THAT is a challenging and interesting character for an actor to invest in.
I have been moved to tears multiple times during the rehearsal process simply by looking around the room and seeing this diverse cast of Asian American performers fully investing and pushing themselves to be more than a funny sidekick or a splash of color in the ensemble. The most meaningful part of Flower Drum Song for me is simply being a proud Asian American actor, playing an Asian American character, telling an Asian American story. It’s my first opportunity to do so, and I hope it’s not the last.
Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Mu Performing Arts: A Little Night Music; Guthrie Theater: South Pacific, The Cocoanuts, The Music Man; Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Hello Dolly!, The Little Mermaid, Bye Bye Birdie; Children’s Theatre Company: Cinderella; Ordway: Broadway Songbook: Rebels on Broadway Training B.A., Theater Arts, Bethel University
Flower Drum Song – Co-Produced with Mu Performing Arts
Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – January 20 to February 19