By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Local performer and writer Susan Lieu had her one-woman drama “140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother” pretty much perfected, in terms of performance, by the time she left town for a 10-city tour. But she didn’t figure on certain kinds of offstage drama.
“The worst thing about being on the road was feeling dismissed and taken advantage of from venues that did not put artists first,” Lieu recalled. “For many of these cities, the financial arrangement was a straight venue rental. But when things went drastically wrong right before or during the show, they didn’t care or choose to make it right.
And frankly, I didn’t have much leverage once the contracts were signed. I’ve learned about how to restructure contracts to make them more artist-friendly and also will remember who to never work with again…
“When I walked onstage, I had to put it all behind me and show up 100% for my audience—even if light cues were deleted, the projector was broken, programs went missing, and a cabaret show decided to scream and shout for minutes during intimate moments during my show… It’s been a great training ground to become more business savvy and focused as a performer, that’s for sure!”
Lieu is back in Seattle for an update to her show, “Over 140 Lbs.” The second show serves as an “extended sequel” to the first show, which started with the death of Lieu’s mother during what was supposed to be routine plastic surgery, then expanded outward to cover family history, family damage, and the sustained process of grief.
The new show features roughly 40% new content, much, though not all, of it revolving around Lieu’s journey through pregnancy, and her determination to take the stage while still pregnant—she’ll be around eight months on her new opening night.
“While the first show was an act of retribution, this new show is an act of love,” explained Lieu. The focus isn’t on avenging my mother’s death, and my quest to know her. Rather, it’s my own personal journey of becoming a mother, given the history of intergenerational trauma as a child of refugees, and society’s pressures. My body changing through the lens of race, class, and gender.”
The new production finds her reunited with director Sara Porkalob, who also directed the original. Porkalob urged Lieu to keep a pregnancy diary. The two women met and discussed what Lieu had written, emphasizing details that resonated deeply with Lieu and overarching themes for structure. They wrote new material based on that, and also reach back to use material worked up for, but deleted from, the earlier show.
Always bold and audacious, Lieu played 12 characters on stage the first time around, and she’s upped the ante to 14 characters. Of course, her condition necessitates a few changes in approach.
“I certainly can’t walk as quickly or bow as deeply as I used to! Given this, we’ve updated my movement onstage to efficiently tell the story while taking care of my body. We incorporated an intermission since I need to use the restroom more as well. I would also say I am starting to notice a decrease in my energy level.
“Working into the night is harder than it used to be so it’s important for me to get as much done in the morning and afternoon when I feel the most fresh. I hope to start training my body to feel energetic since there are mostly evening shows!”
After finishing up the latest production, Lieu plans to work with patient advocates looking to raise medical malpractice caps in California, where she’s from. She’s also working with Consumer Watchdog, hoping to change the incentives for lawyers to represent low-income people of color and for doctors to be more accountable to their patients.
And finally, never seeming to run out of energy, she’ll take to the stage again for a university/college tour. Presumably with a little one in tow.
“Over 140 Lbs” plays Feb. 6–16 as the headlining show at the ACTLab Solo Performance Festival, at the ACT Theatre’s Bullitt Cabaret space. For prices, showtimes, and more information, visit
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.