Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

White Pearl
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of A Chorus Line


Diana Huey, Resa Mishina, and
Shanta Parasuraman, standing

Photo by Teresa Wood
White Pearl, Anchuli Felicia King's play receiving a powerful U.S. premiere at Studio Theatre in Washington, is an incisive comedy about the excesses of capitalism, differing perceptions of beauty around the world, and the way businesses can tear down or build up their employees. King, an Australian-Thai playwright, uses as her focus a woman-run cosmetics firm in Singapore.

Director Desdemona Chiang understands the machine-gun pacing of both King's script and the physical production. Priya Singh (Shanta Parasuraman), CEO of Clearday, is appalled to discover that a preliminary version of an ad for the company's skin-whitening cream has been leaked on the internet. The reaction from around the world criticizes not only the commercial promotion of paler skin as more desirable, but also the ad's undeniable ridicule of people of other races. ("It's all in fun," one of her employees says. She adds that black Americans shouldn't be offended because they are not the target market for the ad.)

Priya, who grew up in India but now speaks only British-inflected English, oversees a team of women from different Asian nations. Xiao Chen (Jenna Zhu) is Chinese; Sunny Lee (Jody Doo), a native Singaporean; Ruki Minami (Resa Mishina), Japanese; Built Suttikul (Diana Huey), born in Thailand and raised in the U.S.; and Soo-Jin Park (Narea Kang), South Korean. Together they demolish the image of a single "Asian" personality as they criticize each other's "authenticity" and, by turns, form alliances and betray them.

As the play follows the employees undertaking damage control, casting blame, and discovering the source of the leak, King offers a look back to the firm's optimistic early days, when Priya tried to establish an alternative to "toxic" corporate culture by inviting the women to work together as a group rather than following a hierarchy. Of course, when things go bad, some people are likely to get sacrificed while others are prepared to take the fall, and solidarity can appear in surprising places.

Chiang has formed her cast, which also includes Zachary Fall as a seedy French activist, into a strong ensemble while also allowing each performer to create a distinct identity. Parasuraman's initial unflappability and smugness, Huey's blistering anger (and American attitude), Zhu's hidden sadness, Mishina's eagerness to be accepted, Kang's resentment, and Doo's reflection of Priya's glory are all riveting to watch, individually and as they interact.

Debra Booth's scenic design in the Milton Theatre packs a lot of detail into a small space: white-on-white furniture, glass walls, even a look inside the ladies' room. The color and motion come from the relentless projection design by Rasean Davonte Johnson. Helen Huang's costumes add to the characterizations: Doo's overly emphatic tiger-print blouse and orange cargo pants, Zhu's subdued brown skirt, Huey's blend of office wear and leather shorts, and Parasuraman's intimidating business suit.

Studio Theatre
White Pearl
November 6th - December 8th, 2019
In the Milton Theatre
By Anchuli Felicia King
Xiao Chen: Jenna Zhu
Priya Singh: Shanta Parasuraman
Sunny Lee: Jody Doo
Ruki Minami: Resa Mishina
Built Suttikul: Diana Huey
Soo-Jin Park: Narea Kang
Marcel Benoit: Zachary Fall
Directed by Desdemona Chiang
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or www.studiotheatre.org


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