The most recent installment of Sex In Seattle starts with a video vignette where the “Heavenly Spirit,” like a Grecian god, looks down and laments the passivity and tacit dishonesty of humans living below, sending an apprentice to guide three ingénues—Tess, Elizabeth, and Jenna—to express and follow their hearts, to “come clean.” This opening scene not only establishes the quick-moving plotline that will govern the fates of the women at hand, but also establishes outright the overarching vision that creator, writer, and lead actress Kathy Hsieh has for the Sex in Seattle series: after all, when’s the last time you saw a Heavenly Spirit manifest as an Asian American woman?
“Coming Clean,” the seventeenth episode of the long-running theatrical romantic comedy in residency at the Hugo House, offers audiences a sassy and lighthearted approach to an often marginalized and stigmatized conversation: Asian American sexuality. While Sex in Seattle is significantly milder than the HBO series that inspired it, its placement of Asian American women at the forefront, navigating issues of love, lust, and uncertainty, is a refreshing and welcome shift of focus. Too often Asian American women are fetishized, silenced, or relegated to a static, supporting role in storylines about romance and sex; by offering a series with witty protagonists and engaging theatrical elements—particularly the effective use of video segments and even choreographed dream sequence dances—Sex In Seattle places agency directly into the hands of women, giving voice to often observed but rarely heard perspectives.
One such scene is when the boisterous and proudly single Tess, juggling the affection of two men, is counterbalanced with the virginal, commitment-loving Elizabeth, as they both reflect on where they stand on interracial relationships. “I’ve just never been attracted to Asian men,” says Tess to her (Asian) admirer Colin, while Elizabeth opens up to the doting, white George about how she has never imagined herself with anyone outside of her ethnicity. While the conversations, mimicking television patter, are light instead of probing, the juxtaposition illuminates the tricky dynamics and range of experiences that reflect the reality of Asian American women living and loving in the Pacific Northwest. In one entertaining section, Tess and Elizabeth suggest and discuss the sexual tension between the both of them; it’s no grand revelation or statement about queer Asian American relationships, but it’s an important moment that further embraces and examines the diversity and decisions of female sexuality.
Sex in Seattle is appropriate for anyone who wants a good laugh and wants to support a vital community of Asian-American theater artists, but I would further recommend “Coming Clean” as a great experience for mothers to share with their daughters. The content is juicy and explicit enough to speak to real issues—unlike the highfaluting, high-heeled Sex in the City, so detached from the experiences of everyday women—without being too uncomfortable or edgy for a multigenerational audience. The women of Sex In Seattle may be caught in dramatic love lives, but they also have sleepovers and call psychic hotlines for advice; in other words, they’re just like the rest of us.
Sex In Seattle runs through October 17, 2009, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $14 for 8pm shows, $10 for 10pm shows; student/senior/actor admission is $10 for 8pm shows, $6 for 10pm shows. Tickets are available at 206-323-9443 or [email protected]. Reservations are recommended and group discounts are available.