While on a church mission to Bangkok, four Southern California Korean American teenage girls find a hidden camera in their hotel bathroom. They realize that camera, labeled “Property of New Seoul Christian Church,” must have been installed by their own pastor and chaperone. Man of God, now playing at the Ashby Stage, is about what happens next.
Man of God, Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Oct. 2
This fascinating premise, inspired by an actual incident, could lead a playwright in many wrong directions. But award-winning playwright and screenwriter Anna Ouyang Moench (Apple TV’s Severance) ties the story together effectively with nuanced humor and pathos. And she accurately recreates teenage girls’ attitudes, thoughts and speech patterns.
Over the 90-minute, intermission-free entertainment, we get to know the four students. Each epitomizes a different personality type. There is the rebellious, contrary Mimi (Lauren Andrei Garcia), innocent and naïve Samantha (Alexandra Lee), smart, studious Jen (Joyce Domanico-Huh), and the religious, dutiful Kyung-Hwa (Sharon Shao), with a heartbreaking back story. Each actor excels at her role and brings sparkle to the production. Sharon Shao, with the most multifaceted role, has the best opportunity to shine, and she does.
Amid the girls trying to figure out what to do about the pastor, we are privy to astute and amusing commentary about what troubles teenagers: school, sex, Instagram, self-worth, parents and God. The girls are in the in-between age where Samantha brings her beloved stuffed animal along, yet, Mimi curses a blue streak and makes jokes about the sexual behavior of tourists in Thailand. “This is the place weird German sex fiends come to diddle little boys dressed as little girls,” she says. As smartly directed by Michelle Talgarow, the teens talk over each other, scream, and move around the stage with realism and gusto.
But what to do about the pastor? We are rewarded with fantasy scenes of each character’s dream revenge against their aggressor. Young Samantha fights the pastor (Chuck Lacson) with a samurai sword. The sword is enormous compared to the miniature knife she had earlier suggested the girls use to kill their pastor. They remove his kidneys and sell them, fantasizes Jen, the wannabe medical student.
But when the pastor finally appears at the end of the play, things are different. The girls’ bravado disappears in light of the sad recognition of their weak position. This dramatic dialogue-less scene seems to take about 10 minutes while the girls and the audience silently assess the truth of their powerlessness. It’s a somber, realistic ending, but we know these girls have learned a lesson. They won’t be subservient in the future.
Man of God runs 90 minutes without an intermission at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, through Oct. 2. Proof of vaccination and masks are required to attend in-person performances. General admission ticket prices are $23-$46. Tickets for those 25 years and under: $7 with discount code MADTIX. Community Tickets for those with financial hardship: $15 with discount code COMMUNITY. Shotgun also offers live-stream performances on Sept. 15 and 22, as well as video on demand (with closed captioning) from Oct. 5 -16. There is a special haptic tour and performance for blind and low vision patrons on Sept. 18. Reservations are encouraged. More information can be found at the Shotgun Players website.