Shotgun Players’ “Man of God,” starting at the Ashby Stage on Sept. 3, is a dark comedy about the moment a group of teenage girls discover the unwanted male gaze, and decide to do something about it. The funny, feminist thriller features Joyce Domanico-Huh, Lauren Andrei Garcia, Chuck Lacson, Alexandra Lee, and Sharon Shao as a group of Korean-American teenagers and their pastor.
The play is written by Anna Ouyang Moench, a staff writer on the Emmy-nominated TV series “Severance,” directed by Ben Stiller. Moench is known for writing dramas that are also really funny and has won a half dozen or more awards for her work.
In “Man of God,” Moench balances the dark with a layered sense of humor. “I mean, you look around our world and it’s completely absurd, and you have to kind of laugh even as you’re crying,” she says. “That’s the tone of “Severance,” and it’s also very true of “Man of God,” as well.”
Although the idea for “Man of God” was initially born out of a real-life incident that occurred to a group of Christian Korean-American college students on a mission to Southeast Asia, Moench wasn’t interested in writing about that particular event. Rather, she was driven to write about the male gaze, coming of age as a female in a patriarchy, and the factors that can impact whether survivors report abuse.
Moench explores revenge and how it’s portrayed in film and on television. Revenge fantasies can drive the ways in which young victims, lacking resources and recourse, process trauma and decide what action should be taken to address the abuse. Revenge fantasies are often led by male protagonists expressing typically masculine forms of rage and violence. Moench explains, “I got this idea to engage with our culture of revenge fantasy, exploring the ways in which we, as a culture, use genre to fantasize about justice and revenge. I think it’s very interesting that most of those fantasies and those genres are overwhelmingly male driven. And yet, that’s the model that we have access to when we’re young in terms of what we should do if this happens.”
#MeToo isn’t resolved
Moench wrote “Man of God” in 2016, before the Harvey Weinstein revelations would rock the Hollywood establishment and start the #MeToo Movement. She writes, “some of the fury of the play came out of the sense that literally no one’s talking about this. Now, there’s a sense that ‘we fixed that.’ Unfortunately, I think we still have a long way to go on these issues of power dynamics and the way they intersect with gender and age.”
Moench finds those themes of power and privilege universal, going beyond sexual dynamics. She says, “It’s a temptation that comes to everyone in different ways: You have power that you can use for your own benefit, are you going to use it? Or not? And there are times when it harms other people to use that power. And there are times when it’s really, really tempting to do that. And many people will choose that.”
Shotgun Players Associate Artistic Director Leigh Rondon-Davis says, “This play really asks audience members to contend with their power, their privilege, their complicity. Each one of us carries our own power, and this play asks us to consider how we wield it, or at least whether we acknowledge it or not.”
“Man of God” explores classic revenge movie tropes in her play, something that seems on-brand for a contemporary writer working in both television and theater. “I have to think a lot about how the story’s going to be told. In television writing, you just have a different palette of paints to work with, and same with film. You learn the rules of each medium, and then the fun comes when you start breaking those rules. I think those tend to be the episodes in television or movies or plays that people talk about, when you break those rules. But you have to know what those rules are.”
Anna hopes “Man of God” continues to resonate with audiences, although she also hopes we address the societal ills that inspired it. The abuse and exploitation of underage girls, “is just one of those ancient problems we’re still wrestling with. I don’t think of this as something easily solved. I hope that the play stays relevant in that sense, [but] I also hope the play stops being relevant completely and [teenagers] don’t have to deal with this anymore.”
The Shotgun Players are producing the play as part of their 30th Anniversary Season. The production is directed by Michelle Talgarow, with fight choreography by Raisa Donato, and a set design by Randy Wong-Westbrooke.
The production will be presented live and in-person at the Ashby Stage Sept. 3 through Oct. 2, with a video on-demand available to stream Oct. 5-16 with optional closed captioning. Assisted listening devices are available at the Ashby Stage for every performance, and Shotgun Players has partnered with Gravity Access to offer a haptic tour and audio-described performance on Sept. 18.
Pay-what-you-can previews begin Sept. 3. Opening night is Sept. 10. General admission tickets are priced $23 through $46. Special community ticket for those experiencing financial difficulty available for $15 using discount code COMMUNITY. $7 M.A.D. tickets available for ages 25 and under, using discount code MADTIX. $20 Artist Tickets available for working artists using discount code CALLBOARD.