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“Man of God” at Williamstown is a powerful look at groomed power

 Erin Rae Li, Ji-young Yoo, Shirley Chen & Emma Galbraith in MAN OF GOD
©Stephanie Berger.
Erin Rae Li, Ji-young Yoo, Shirley Chen & Emma Galbraith in MAN OF GOD

“Man of God” playing at the Nikos Theater of Williamstown Theater Festival is definitely a play filled with feminist issues.

As a cis male I am always uncomfortable writing on an emotional level about issues outside my personal experience. However, leaving “Man of God” after the Saturday matinee performance, I felt that I more deeply and emotionally understood the helplessness of women who have lived their lives groomed by patriarchal power.

Four young Asian-American women are on a religious mission to Bangkok, Thailand. There they share a hotel room in a seedy part of a seedy city. The 90-minute play opens with one of the girls finding a camera hidden in their bathroom. It has been recording their most private moments.

Because the four teenagers are as

different as is possible, the discussions about who planted the camera are far reaching and, believe it or not - funny without being disrespectful of the situation. Kyung-Hwa is devout and submissive. Mimi is an aggressive non-believer with a crude vocabulary. Jen is shy and studious while Samantha is trusting and naïve.

Eventually, after much debate, the only possible conclusion is that the camera was planted by their Pastor, the leader of the mission church. The reasons are obvious and perverted.

As the four women debate a course of action, the decisions vary from apathy to doing physical harm to the Pastor. As the choices are offered we learn not only about the lives of the young women which include sexual abuse, bullying, religious frustrations and subservience. The revelations are often painful, not only because of their nature, but because the stories are too familiar. However, because of playwright Anna Ouyang Moench’s riveting writing, it is never trite. Her revelations are always articulate, heartbreaking and honest.

Director Maggie Burrows expertly builds the situation so that the overriding feeling towards the women is their lack of power. Tension builds as they increasingly feel trapped and helpless. Alone in a dangerous city without passports, where women are treated without respect (and worse) and their father-figure is a pervert. Even an expensive phone call home to a mother is dismissed as improbable. They are truly alone and powerless.

Playwright Moench adds comedic dialogue which prevents the play from being depressing rather than distressing. Too, she also adds clever fantasy scenes where the women retreat to their imagination to punish the Pastor. The Kung-Fu sword fight is brilliant, the gangster “hit scene” is fun, and even a grizzly scene that could be taken from the “Texas Chainsaw” franchise is funny,

“Man of God” is brilliantly performed, directed and choreographed with technical support of sets, lights and sound being equally brilliant. Indeed, in a play filled with bravery the most heartbreaking and revealing moment is a 10-minute segment where not a word is spoken. It tells you more about the trained submissive state of the females than any eloquent soliloquy ever could express.

“Man of God” was originally produced in June at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. It plays here with the same cast and director. Before it opened at Williamstown it was extended a week to July 22. (there will be two cast changes the week of 7/17-22). If you miss it here, I strongly suspect you will have an opportunity to see it in New York City.

“Man of God” at Williamstown Theatre Festival Through July 22. For tickets and schedule information call 413-458-3253.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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