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"(Un)scene" is steely in its vulnerability

Theater Mu's 2021 New Eyes Festival responds to the recent violence against the AAPI community.

Photos courtesy Theater Mu. ICYMI, Theater Mu has been declared a regional cultural treasure by the McKnight Foundation.

Most years, you get one chance to see the plays at Theater Mu's annual New Eyes Festival before they are summoned back to the transient world of script development, maybe to resurface a couple years down the road.

This year, the festival changed. Instead of full-length plays, artistic director Lily Tung Crystal gathered five 10-minute plays written in response to the increasing violence against Asian Americans. And, instead of a live reading, the performances are streaming free through May 29, which means you have a few more days to catch the collection Theater Mu has titled "(Un)scene."

After watching the festival four days after its premiere, I can tell you we're fortunate on both counts.

(Because I really enjoyed this show, I want to tell you why. However, because the plays are about 10 minutes long, the following might be considered half spoilers. Fair warning.)

From left to right: playwrights Carla Ching, Isabella Dawis, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Aditi Brennan Kapil.

"(Un)scene" is a jeweled anthology that starts and ends with two very different types of declarations. "Super Manifesto" by Aditi Brennan Kapil is a thesis-turned-spoken-word about who the real Superman is in America—after all, who is considered "other"? The rising emotion builds on the strength of not only the speaker's power but that of all marginalized communities in a clear statement of "we are here."

Playwright Carla Ching's "Walking," on the other hand, comes across as a slow unraveling of Minnesota niceties to reveal the fear and hurt and bafflement of living in a world where hate crimes can happen. It's not a manifesto, but it's a proclamation in its own way. By the end of it, it's a promise.

As for the other stories, Lisa Marie Rollins' play, "The Thaw and the Ground Below," is the most en media res, opening with two teenage girls talking about a school dance. Because of this, I was fooled into thinking it was more benign, when in reality, the casual racism and chauvinism was my most hypertensive point of the night.

"Raw Pig Blood Soup" by resident playwright Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a delightful, macabre confrontation between a detective and a neighborhood bao maker, and Isabella Dawis' "Bones of a Horse" is a net of magical realism and metaphor woven by a placid specter. While the questions are lilting and detached, they only antagonize the hollow devastation of a Japanese man in the 1940s.

Throughout the festival's cast lists are Twin Cities' favorites, including Meghan Kreidler, Emily Kuroda, and Eric Sharp, and with the help of the directors, each play is ripe with nuance. Together, the stories were greater than the sum of their parts. Yet, even as I write their praises, I feel bittersweet.

Theater Mu's 2021 New Eyes Festival is fantastic, but it was born out of a need to process, react, and confront the horrific events that have taken place and are taking place in our country. Art can be used as a mirror for the world's shortcomings, and here Theater Mu does it beautifully, tragically. At the same time, wouldn't it be nice if we could reflect on a better world?


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