Influential series has drawn out laughs, probing questions, and discussions about ethnic identity
By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Kathy Hsieh’s writing career began in the ninth grade when her language arts teacher asked students to write a script for a class assignment. Hsieh wrote a comedic retelling of a wedding she attended with her parents. She received an A for the paper and discovered her love for writing comedies.
Now an established playwright, Hsieh’s latest ‘episode’ — though really, it is the latest installment in a series of plays — of “Sex in Seattle” (SIS) opened this month at the Richard Hugo House on Capitol Hill.
In its 19th episode, SIS is a play featuring four single Asian American 20-somethings dealing with love, relationships, and sex — not necessarily in that order. While similar in name, “Sex in Seattle” was not intended to be patterned after “Sex in the City.”
In fact, Hsieh was not a follower of the HBO show, which featured four single women dealing with their various issues with the opposite sex. Instead, Hsieh said that the show was patterned after the television show, “Friends.”
“Sex in Seattle 19: The One That Got Away” is the second to last episode in the series. Hsieh has decided to end the series with the 20th episode. She believes that this would give the characters a clean ending.
“There was a certain point around episode eight where we asked ourselves, ‘How long can we go?’ ” said Hsieh.
“I never thought it would go as long as it did.”
Hsieh began writing the premise for the plays in August 2000. “There is something gratifying [about the plays] that people identify with.” The idea for SIS originated after Hsieh discussed relationships with her friends.
Characters = Actors
The actors have enjoyed the episodic nature of the series and have become attached to their characters.
“It’s really easy being Tess,” said Leilani Berinobis. “It’s [like] being myself.” Berinobis has played her character for nine episodes. “I’ve always been excited in playing Tess. It will be like losing a sister,” said Berinobis, of the impending end of the series.
For some, the character and the actor have morphed into the same person. “I don’t know if I’ve become the character or the character has become me,” said Henry Drew who plays Kenneth Sheng.
The similarities are due, in part, to Hsieh’s ability to write to the strengths of her actors.
Yet, the actors realize the great opportunity in ending the series.
“It’s fun to follow characters. Having an ending is always nice. Closure will be satisfying,” said Gordon Hendrickson, who plays Nathan.
The play has received positive reviews for its portrayal of Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs). “It’s fantastic [for APIs] to see themselves onstage. They are contemporary people in a contemporary situation,” said Miko Premo, who plays Chloe Kong. Similar to a soap opera, Hsieh noted that frequent followers of the episodes have become “invested in the lives” of the characters.
The allure of Asian men
When Hsieh developed SIS, she interviewed Asian American men and women to get a perspective on the characters that she was creating. One of the interesting things she discovered was that many Asian American women she talked to preferred white men. The response she received was that Asian American women felt that dating Asian American men was like dating their brothers.
“It (SIS) reflects life,” Berinobis said. “I only dated white guys.” But while playing Tess, Berinobis realized that Asian American males are attractive. “[SIS] [o]pened my eyes. I no longer see Asian American boys as my ‘brother,’ ” she humorously added. “There are actually cute Asians out there.”
According to Hsieh, 65 percent of the audience is Asian American. Of the 65 percent, 20 percent are first-generation immigrants. Many are young professionals that come to see the shows. “It’s the best way to get to learn how Americans are,” explained Hsieh.
SIS as sex-ed
Over the course of almost 20 episodes, which have spanned more than 10 years, SIS has developed a cult following. Hsieh stated that the play has drawn a variety of diverse groups, including church groups, parents with their teenage children, college-age kids, and older women.
Despite the raunchy content, Hsieh explained that the sexual situations help church groups discuss relationships. In addition, she noted that many parents are able to talk to their teenage kids about certain situations that they would not normally feel comfortable discussing, as they feel at ease talking about the characters rather than real life situations. The teenagers can relate to these situations.
Not only has SIS brought friends together, it has brought singles together. Hsieh recalls the story of a group of friends living in the same apartment building that went to the show. A young man and woman had a crush on one other, but they did not know of each other’s feelings.
After watching an episode of SIS, which preached taking a chance on love, the two decided to take the leap. They told one another of their feelings and fell in love.
Hsieh later learned that they became engaged.
Another trend identified by Hsieh pertains to attendance at the plays. She has noticed that the followers that started watching SIS when it first began were in their mid-20s and are now in their 30s with kids. As a result, Hsieh has noticed that the early show at 8 p.m. has a higher attendance than the later show at 10 p.m. The opposite was true 10 years ago.
“Even though the show is ending, over the course of 20 episodes, it’s touched people in different ways.” Hsieh added. “It reminded people to laugh, but at the same time, reminded them that they are not alone, especially being Asian American.”
Snapshot review of Episode 19
As for Episode 19, the four main characters are involved in relationships, but each wonders whether they are with the right person. Each of the ladies think about “the one that got away.” This episode is more graphic than the last few episodes, in terms of sexual situations.
Overall, it was fun, fast-paced, and moved the characters along to wrap up loose ends in preparation for the final episode.
The 20th and final episode will take place in 2012. Although not yet written, Hsieh has the “broad strokes” decided upon for the end of the series. ♦
Sex in Seattle runs through April 30 at the Richard Hugo House on Capitol Hill. For more information on tickets, visit www.sexinseattle.org.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.