Written and Performed by Soomi Kim; Directed by Leta Tremblay
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 11.18.17
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street
by Ran Xia on 11.13.17
Soomi Kim in My Little China Girl. Photo by Mark Hayes.
BOTTOM LINE: A moving and sincere physical soliloquy detailing the artist's experience growing up as an Asian American amidst societal expectations and personal turbulence.
When David Bowie released "China Girl" in 1983, it was an instant hit. Was it because he’s, you know, Bowie? Or was it because the video displayed the epitome of the alluring “oriental beauty” that fascinated a generation of boys drawn to the demure, ultra-soft concept of “female ideal”? I was unfamiliar with the song until Soomi Kim’s one-woman show, but once I scouted it out on YouTube, it left a sour taste in my mouth. It's been said that Bowie meant it as parody, using racism to combat racism. And yet, what that neon-age music video revealed was an erroneous and misleading role model for one too many Asian American women growing up without many relatable characters, in music, television, or anywhere.
As Kim's solo piece begins, A-ha’s "Take On Me" brings us back to the artist's childhood before she commands our attention with a physical poem that’s somewhere between space-age disco and modern dance. It is a summary of Kim's life, each significant moment condensed into a simple gesture and connected into a moving sequence: Korea, Oregon, Detroit, Gymnastics, Saxophone, Piano, Crown Beer Stepmom, Crown Beer Grandma, and so on.
Soomi, or, Sharon Kim (her name was Americanized to avoid confusion from her teachers) had her share of small-town life, with loving parents, two brothers, and gymnastics practice four times a week. As she shows projected slides, the faded images spin the wheel of time backwards like magic. We get to know the little girl who eventually becomes the woman before us, and as we fall in love with that little girl, we become witnesses to her mother's death in a car accident, a tragic moment that marks a profound loss.
Kim's loss of her mother is a wound that might never heal. Added to this, Kim then loses all of the slides of her mother. And so Kim tells the story now with few words, instead using her body, through gestures which at times become meditative. Her simple motions account for some of the most terrible things a person can experience, and in this simplicity, her story enraptures us.
In the loneliness that follows such a loss, Soomi becomes obsessed with a celebrity crush, projecting herself into Bowie’s strange on-screen romance. On the stage, Soomi’s face is literally projected onto the playback of the "China Girl" music video. She talks to David like to an imaginary friend, a pen pal who looks back at her with a soft gaze in a daydream. And so Kim talks about the beauty ideals that Asian Americans have been fed with, and fed up with, like the open-eyelid surgery that’s pervasive in Korea. It’s a constant battle to accept oneself, especially when one is told it's inferior to look a certain way. Kim’s battle of self-acceptance was triggered by her loss. As her memories of her mother began to fade, Soomi turned to Davie Bowie’s paramour in despair, overlaying herself onto that “perceived perfection.”
But Kim finally gets her mother’s photos back, and we meet that woman from the now distant past. She was beautiful, strong, and proud of who she was. Kim recalls that old friends and relatives tell her how much she looks like her mother. The legacy remains. The little girl who wanted to blend in with her American peers is now a strong woman, standing independent from the fantasy of being a nameless “China Girl,” and proud of being her mother’s daughter.
(My Little China Girl plays at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, through November 18, 2017. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30. Tickets are $21 in advance, $24 at the door, $18 students/seniors, and are available at dixonplace.org.)
My Little China Girl is written and performed by Soomi Kim. Directed by Leta Tremblay. Dramaturgy by Mia Chung. Video Design by Justin West and Kevan Loney. Scenic Design by Bryce Cutler. Lighting Design by Rob Lariviere. Sound Design by Iggy Hung. Music Composition by Adam Rogers. Stage Manager is Lauren Schatten. Assistant Director is Adam Lee Secor. Movement Consultant is Zeke Stewart.