Grace Luke, a Chinese-American woman, uses a cat’s paw strategy with her white male mentor, to rise up in the racist and sexist 1980s post-Vietnam, New York City, corporate world. Put Grace’s story together with Cantopop songs styled after Anita Mui, the Cantopop superstar (also known as the Asian Madonna) and you have Cat Country.
Cat Country will have its first reading at Bellevue College’s Stop Gap Theater on Saturday, June 10, 2023 at 7 pm. Register for the live reading or to get access to a video recording afterwards: https://bit.ly/3WGvc9H
David Hsieh, Managing Artistic Director of ReAct Theater Company is directing. ReAct was founded in 1993 to give theatre artists of all backgrounds and skill levels to work on projects that they otherwise would not have had access. David and ReAct face the same challenges as small theaters around the country which were shut down for more than two years during Covid. Government relief has dried up. Yet, audiences have not come back. Theatre researchers are finding that audiences and income is down anywhere from 20% to 50% from pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, ReAct lost its space.
While directing Refugees in the Garden City with Pratidhwani, Po Boy Tango for Tacoma Little Theatre and Kim’s Convenience for Tacoma Arts Live; and being in Seattle Symphony’s The Peasant Prince David packed up ReAct’s belongings and after a two-month search located a 4,000-square foot space in Pioneer Square, four times larger than the previous space. Showing remarkable resilience, David wants to grow ReAct and make the space a real affordable place for the community to rent for events.
Musical director Aimee Hong also agreed to come on board and to play the lead role of Grace. Aimee is a veteran of many musical productions including Village Theater, Seattle Pacific University, The Seattle Rep, Seattle Children’s Theater and more. She says, ”I enjoyed working with Leslie on Geomancer. I enjoy the characters and the stories that she tries to tell. My grandparents came from Guangzhou. I am second generation and the characters are totally in sync with me. Am I Asian enough? Am I American enough? These are the characters that speak out to me. This is the question of the second generation. Where do I fit in?”
As to the challenge of presenting a Cantopop musical, Aimee stated, “It’s exciting to have a new medium to tell stories with. Cantopop is a fusion of a whole host of different music cultures.”
Cantopop came into existence in the 1970s when young Hong Kongnese were developing their own local culture and consciousness. The sentimental love songs with Cantonese lyrics backed by Western-style pop music expressed paradoxical feelings in their age of innocence. In the 1980s, Cantopop reached its Age of Glory when its spread its influence throughout Asia and to the Chinese diaspora around the world. Cantopop met its demise in the late 1990s and early 2000s. James Wong, the godfather of Cantopop, surmised that its death may be attributed to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 or the death of its two international superstars, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui, in 2003.
With regards to the name of the musical, some people know Cat Country as the significant Chinese dystopian and early speculative fiction work by Lao She. It depicts a Chinese man crash landing on Mars where a community of Cat people live.
The rest of the cast includes Michael Wu, Van Pham, Mariko Kita, Scott Bessho, Mark Fox and Christopher Kehoe.
Leslie Lum wrote Cat Country, the Cantopop musical. A previous play Geomancer (geomancer.site) about human rights activist Iris Chang and Chinese rocket scientist Qian Xue-shen was read at the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theater and again with support of the Playwrights Theatre Center and Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.