Po Boy Tango, a Tale of Cooking and Culture Clash, Makes World Premiere in IL Jan. 7 | Playbill

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News Po Boy Tango, a Tale of Cooking and Culture Clash, Makes World Premiere in IL Jan. 7 Northlight Theatre's world-premiere production of Kenneth Lin's cross-cultural relationship play, Po Boy Tango, begins Jan. 7 in suburban Chicago.

Opening Jan. 15 and continuing to Feb. 15 in Skokie, IL, the comedy with cooking features Ken Narasaki, Jeanne Sakata and Jacqueline Williams. Chay Yew directs the exploration of friendship, cultural differences and international cuisine.

"A celebration of the human spirit and the joy of cooking, Po Boy Tango tells the story of Richie Po, a Taiwanese immigrant who turns to his estranged friend Gloria to help him recreate his mother's 'Great Banquet,'" according to Northlight. "Despite the challenges of shark fin soup, duck po boy sandwiches and underlying cultural tensions, Richie and Gloria find common ground through their shared humor and the blending of traditional Chinese cuisine and African-American Soul Food. Helped by lessons from Po Mamas television cooking show, the two discover a deeper understanding of food, culture and the nature of friendship."


Po Boy Tango comes to the Northlight stage for a full production after a workshop and reading as a part of the Northlight Interplay series — the third production to make such a transition (Lady, Better Late).

"Po Boy Tango was another of our Interplay readings that piqued our interest because of its fresh themes, unique characters, and unusual theatricality," stated Northlight artistic director BJ Jones. "I don't ever remember reading anything like Po Boy. The fact that it dealt with diverse cultures facing each other's prejudices and differences made it an interesting choice for our audience. The need for nourishment, not just of the body but of the spirit and the soul, is central to Po Boy, and it celebrates the commonality of all people and all cultures. The taking of a meal allows us to reach out to friends, affect rapprochement with adversaries, or simply settle into the silence that allows us to gather our strength." Po Boy Tango is a recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. The funding supports an extension of the rehearsal period, with the goal of achieving a stronger first production, thereby increasing the chances of a continued life for the play.

Po Boy Tango is also the first installment of Northlight's three-year American Experience Series, underwritten by the Lehman Family. The American Experience Series "is designed to present work that fully integrates both contemporary and historically significant events, bringing to life the common desire to accomplish the dreams of disparate people. Social justice, tolerance, inclusion, and freedom, both religious and political, are the key factors in selecting work that speak to the ideals of the American Experience."

The design team includes Brian Sidney Bembridge (set), Rachel Laritz (costume), Keith Parham (lighting), and Andre Pluess (sound). Lauren Hickman is the stage manager and the dramaturg is Meghan Beals McCarthy.

Playwright Lin's plays said Said, Agency, Sun Is The New Apollo, Dovetail and The Lynching of a White Man in Rural, CA have been produced, developed and/or commissioned by the Alliance Theatre, South Coast Rep, Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Wilma Theatre, P73 Productions, NY Stage & Film and Arena Stage.

Lin is the winner of the Princess Grace Award, the L. Arnold Weissberger Award and the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition. He is an alumnus of Cornell University, the U.S. Fulbright Scholarship Program and the Yale School of Drama, where he was awarded the ASCAP Cole Porter Prize for Excellence in Playwriting.

Director Yew's credits include productions at the Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Huntington Theatre Company, Cincinnati Playhouse, Empty Space, Portland Center Stage, Cornerstone Theatre, Geva Theater Center, Laguna Playhouse, East West Players, National Asian American Theatre Company, Ma Yi Theatre Company, Gala Hispanic Theatre, Singapore Repertory Theatre and Smithsonian Institute, among others. His opera credits include the world premieres of Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang's Ainadamar (co-production with Tanglewood Music Center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Los Angeles Philharmonic) and Rob Zuidam's Rage D'Amors (Tanglewood). Yew is also a playwright, whose work includes Red, Porcelain, Wonderland and A Language of Their Own. Upcoming projects include the world premieres of Robert O'Hara's Antebellum at Woolly Mammoth and Universes' Ameriville at the Humana Festival.

Narasaki (who'll play Richie Po) has appeared in over 50 plays, 20 with the Asian American Theater Company (San Francisco), as well as East West Players, the Boston Court, the Berkeley Repertory Theater, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, the Mark Taper Forum, the Sundance Institute, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Japan America Theatre, the Sacramento Theatre Company, Thick Description, the Asian Exclusion Act (now NWAAT), hereandnow, and many others.

Sakata (Po Mama), making her Chicago debut, recently performed in Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing at South Coast Repertory. An LA Ovation Award winner for Best Lead Actress for her cross-gender portrayal of Master Hua in Chay Yew's Red, she has performed with the Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Rep, the Intiman, A Contemporary Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage, and Arizona Theatre Company. Last year, she made her debut as a playwright with the world premiere of her solo show Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi at East West Players.

Williams (Gloria B) appeared at Northlight in Gee's Bend, The Miser, From the Mississippi Delta (also regional tour), and Born in the R.S.A. (Market Theatre of Johannesburg tour). She recently appeared in Court Theatre's Caroline, or Change and previously at Court in First Breeze of Summer, Fences (Jeff Award), and Electra (title role).

Northlight's home is at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, in Skokie.

For more information, visit www.northlight.org.

<i>Po Boy Tango</i> stars Ken Narasaki and Jacqueline Williams
Po Boy Tango stars Ken Narasaki and Jacqueline Williams

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