Anna Moench’s Man of God, now onstage at InterAct, is a worthy entry in the company’s mission to generate cutting-edge social, political, and cultural dialogue. It’s a timely exploration of teen girls grappling with the male gaze alongside their evolving sense of agency.
This production, with a script from an Asian American playwright and featuring an all-Asian American cast, opens on four Korean American teenage girls on a Christian mission trip in Bangkok. They’ve got radically different personalities, but the girls become unified in their shared horror when one of them discovers a hidden camera in their hotel bathroom. Inspired by a true story, Moench’s dark comedy examines the damage that comes from viewing women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.
In the hotel room
Scenic designer You-Shin Chen craftily creates a seemingly harmless stage picture: a standard hotel room in Bangkok. We never leave this room throughout the play, grounding us in the present dilemma overwhelming these girls’ lives. Under Maura Krause’s artful direction, the actors use every inch of the stage, never staying stagnant as we discover more about each character.
Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters, Claris Park, Annie Fang, Kimie Muroya, and Justin Jain form a small but mighty cast. The audience gets a real sense of who these characters are, both from a comprehensive script and intensely expressive acting. The central quartet have great chemistry throughout the highs and lows of their time in the hotel room. Kyung Sun Walters (Mimi) shines as a bold and rebellious teen with no filter.
The eye in the wall
I could intimately understand the girls’ predicament. While traveling in Colombia in 2012, a friend and I decided to spend a night on a remote island off the Colombian coast. Upon arrival, we paid about $15 for a run-down cabana. While we were changing into our bathing suits, I noticed a human eye staring at me through the walls. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I told my friend the cabana-owner was spying on us through a peephole. We got dressed and unsuccessfully demanded a refund.
Although I felt violated in a major way, my circumstances in a foreign country led me to feel I needed to deescalate the situation and just move on. When shame and vulnerability collide, it can be difficult to stand up for yourself in the face of wrongdoing, especially in a society that too often shrugs its shoulders and says “boys will be boys.”
Silence, survival, and fight
Man of God manages to morph between humor and tragedy throughout its runtime. The discovery of the camera in their bathroom, planted by someone they know, forces the girls to confront losing their safety around those they’re supposed to trust. Moench tackles these topics without simply making the girls victims, letting them be vibrant and funny as they explore their agency. Highlights of the play are revenge-fantasy sequences where the girls can be as strong and ruthless against abuse as they want to be.
The girls’ innocence about sex acts and exploitation is put to the test, as they must decide how to move forward after learning harsh truths. Silence, survival, and fight look different for everyone. Man of God is a thought-provoking play that dives into some of the biggest obstacles disproportionately affecting women, including eating disorders, poor body image, shame, sexual harassment, and assault. If the script sometimes brushes over these sensitive topics too quickly and trivially, it helps to remember that teenage characters are processing them. The play’s murky world of eroded consent starts a dialogue without finishing it.
What, When, Where
Man of God. By Anna Moench, directed by Maura Krause. Through February 16, 2020, at InterAct Theatre Company, 302 South Hicks St., Philadelphia. (215) 568-8079 or interacttheatre.org.
The Drake Theatre complex is fully accessible, though wheelchair users will need assistance with the heavy front doors. Wheelchair seating, companion seating, and mobility and audiovisual-accessible seating are available for all performances. Seating requests can be made prior to the performance by calling (215) 568-8079 or emailing [email protected]. The Drake has gender-neutral restrooms.