Keiko Green • Courtesy

Playwright and screenwriter Keiko Green has a lot of projects going in 2023, and locally, her play Hometown Boy is receiving its second production at Seattle Public Theater during May.

In Hometown Boy, James returns to his rural Georgia hometown after many years away in order to check on his father, whose behavior is reportedly increasingly erratic, which draws James back in time toward secrets from their past. Hometown Boy was written as an exploration of the question, who gets to move on from memory?” Green said. “So inherently, that starts to become a play about secrets and the different ways we carry secrets.

During the course of James’s visit, he finds that it isn’t just the garbage in his father’s house that stinks.  There is a privilege to thinking you can leave your past fully behind you,” Green shared, “while other characters in the play see the life around them in shambles, every moment a reminder of buried secrets.

With her experience in both theatre and TV, Green feels this story is perfect for the stage.  In my mind, plays are more successful when they live in the in-between, when we can sit in the consequences of the action,” she elaborated. “The secret may be important to the plot, but the effects of the secrets are more important to the emotionality of the characters, which is where theatre shines.

Hometown Boy was initially written as a response play to Beth Henley’s 1980 play Crimes of the Heart, in which the youngest sister has an affair with a black teenage boy. “We never hear or see the child’s point of view, but it’s implied that he has to leave town, and in the process, the character is sexualized by the characters onstage, as they look at photographs,” Green explained. “I saw a production in 2016, and it left me wondering, who do we choose to give stage time to? Who do we choose to give a voice to?”

Green is a Southerner, born in Georgia, and Henley’s play stayed in her mind. “I started to connect the story with Mary Kay Letourneau,” she said. “Here was a real story in Burien, about a pretty white woman having an affair with a child of color.”

Exploring the issues in Hometown Boy was challenging for Green. “Is it possible for me to write characters that have committed morally reprehensible acts without vilifying them, instead writing them as real people?” she wondered. “Isn’t there something more realistic and sad and beautiful and unfair about that? If my job as an artist is to hold up a mirror to nature, overly-antagonizing certain characters felt like a lazy way out.”

She chose to write about the Asian American Southerner experience. “I talked with others who had the same experience as I did, growing up in areas in the South with very few people that looked like us,” she said. “Walter is a character whose racial identity flickers back and forth in rural Georgia, sometimes he’s talking about internment, other times he’s swearing about Japanese people.”

So Walter’s son James doesn’t just encounter the house as a setting. “The biggest point of interest in building Walter’s character was the house, which is a character in itself,” Green said. “For a family that had lost everything due to their ethnicity, owning property becomes a symbol of masculinity and acceptance as an American.”

Hometown Boy had its world premiere production in Atlanta, and then Green sent the script to Pilar O’Connell, Associate Artistic Director at Seattle Public Theater at that time. “Pilar passed it along to the other artistic leaders there, and we soon started talking about a potential production,” Green reported. “When it came to directors, my priority was finding someone who could lead actors into an authentic Southerner experience, someone who would find the warmth and crackling electricity of a summer storm in the South.”

In both Atlanta and Seattle, Green has received a wide range of feedback on the play.  “The play can be really polarizing, which I think is great” she said. “The play isn’t satisfying, and it can leave audiences feeling a bit untethered, which is not dissimilar to the AAPI Southerner experience.”

This experience motivates Green to feature characters she doesn’t agree with. “My favorite moments of the play are the moments that surprise me because it’s not what I want to happen next,” she said. “Every moment is avoidable yet inevitable.”

Following Hometown Boy, Green’s play Sharon will be receiving its world premiere at Cygnet Theatre in San Diego, directed by Robby Lutfy, and Green will be playing the role of Tina. “I pride myself on helping to build extremely joyful rehearsal rooms that are pretty free from hierarchy, as we build and collaborate together,” Green said. “I think I’m probably the one most stressed out that I’m making anyone uncomfortable with perceived power in the room.

Rehearsing her own play is not a cakewalk. “The most embarrassing part is that I still have trouble learning all my lines,” she said. “It feels like I should just know what comes next.

Alongside all this, Green has also been working as a Staff Writer on Interior Chinatown, a new Hulu series. “It’s a tricky time because I, like every professional screenwriter/TV writer in Hollywood, am a member of the Writers Guild, and we’re in a huge strike right now, which has halted our writing work to a screeching halt,” she said. “I had a jam-packed week taking out a pitch with some producers right before the strike, and two days later, I’m not allowed to talk to them about it.

Due to her theatre schedule, Green is only in Los Angeles one or two days a week. “But I’m out picketing whenever I’m there,” she said. “I put in ten miles this past Monday on my one day off, marching around Disney with a sign.”

But ultimately, Green seems to be wistful for the strike to end so she can get back to writing. “Splitting my time between theatre and screen keeps me more financially secure, and artistically fulfilled, as I get to stretch new muscles,” she said. “Ultimately, work on one makes me better at the other.”

Hometown Boy runs through May 28 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 West Green Lake Drive North, Seattle.

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