The world premiere of Hot Asian Doctor Husband isn’t the breezy and playful romantic comedy that Netflix movies like You’ll Always Be My Maybe or modern classics like 10 Things I Hate About You might have you primed for. There is romance, or at least hooking up. And there is comedy. At the beginning especially, the audience laughed at every line. If it involved a snarky comment about stereotypes, if there was any slight intonation or involved sex or cursing, riotous laughter lasted for multiple seconds. The actors got used to riding the waves out, but during some instances—like when Emi is on another one of her rants—actor Meghan Kreidler had to press onward.
Emi’s swirling, anxiety-filled rants is one of the staple parts of dialogue in Leah Nanako Winkler’s Hot Asian Doctor Husband, performed by Theater Mu at Mixed Blood Theatre through September 1. After Emi’s mother dies in a freak accident, Emi tries to fill the loss with culture in hopes to preserve the most obvious trait that Emi’s mom has passed down: her Asianness. To do so, she must banish the half of her genetics that is white and “decolonize” her vagina. That is, break up with her longtime boyfriend Collin, an endlessly patient lad (played by Damian Leverett), and find a hot Asian doctor husband (Eric Sharp). It’s about falling in love with the idea of someone rather than who they are. So hey, I guess it does fit the romcom genre it’s being marketed as. It’s just a little darker and angrier than you might expect.
Nanako Winkler’s play tackles more of the emotions rather than the resolution of the premise, and under the direction of Seonjae Kim, the actors play their roles to a tee. The script adds in winks to trends like yoga apps and salt lamps in a hilarious scene with actor Danielle Troiano, cliche guitar pinings, and the idea of being “woke.” (It is particularly because this play prides itself in its relevance that the two treatments of domestic violence rankles a bit. But that’s an aside.) Still, neither these references nor the heightened emotions make the play shine.
What strikes as the most real are two things. One is Emi’s best friend, Leonard, played by Mikell Sapp. In Nanako Winkler’s script and Sapp’s characterizations, Leonard is multi-faceted. We can picture his presence in our lives: a guy who’s always fun to invite to a party, a man who experiences both privilege and discrimination, a great best friend, and a terrible partner. The second thing is, ironically, the influence of Japanese fairy tales (but perhaps I just love Sun Mee Chomet). And … I can’t really say more for fear of spoiling the play.
Nanako Winkler isn’t a stranger to Theater Mu (she opened last season with Two Mile Hollow), and given the audience’s reception to her plays, it’s more than likely she will be back again. With Hot Asian Doctor Husband, she wrote a bed of emotion, but when she slows the pace down into dreamy monologues, weaving reflections, and night time conversations, it begins to reveal its heart. For those who were laughing at the play from the first sentence, hopefully they continued to fall in love during each twist and metamorphosis of the story.