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[THEATER] Sandra Oh and Diana Son in "Satellites"

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  • madchinaman
    Artists on the same page Sandra Oh s training makes it a natural for her to end up on stage, where she s often a sort of alter ego to the playwright in works
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 25, 2006
      Artists on the same page
      Sandra Oh's training makes it a natural for her to end up on stage,
      where she's often a sort of alter ego to the playwright in works by
      friend Diana Son.
      By Jan Breslauer, Special to The Times
      http://www.calendarlive.com/printedition/calendar/suncal/cl-ca-
      oh25jun25,0,1289200.story?coll=cl-suncal


      -

      Perhaps that's because the women share more than work. Both are
      children of Korean immigrants and grew up in small towns that were
      overwhelmingly non-Asian. Traversing both stage and screen work like
      Oh, Son is not only a playwright but a supervising producer and
      writer on the TV series "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." In an
      entertainment industry that still has relatively few prominent Asian
      faces, both are role models.

      -


      SANDRA OH sits in a small upstairs room of Manhattan's Public
      Theater, amid the well-worn furniture and dirty white anti-glamour
      of a not-for-profit backstage. Makeup-free and nursing a V8, berry
      juice and coffee, Oh wraps her long, impossibly delicate limbs
      around herself as she perches on a vinyl couch, near the sparse
      dressing room she shares with two other actresses.

      Suffice it to say, the setting is a far cry from Oh's life in L.A.
      and her work as Dr. Cristina Yang on the TV show "Grey's Anatomy."
      Despite her newfound visibility in Hollywood, the stage remains her
      passion. So she's here — good-naturedly — at a morning hour many
      actresses would rather avoid, to talk about "Satellites," a play
      written by Diana Son and directed by Michael Greif running at the
      Public.

      "I trained in theater, so it's kind of hard not to do it," Oh says
      of an ongoing commitment that not all former stage actors who've
      made the transition to TV and film share. She has also remained
      dedicated to her long-standing collaboration with Son. Oh has
      appeared in a number of the playwright's works, arguably as Son's
      stage alter ego.

      Perhaps that's because the women share more than work. Both are
      children of Korean immigrants and grew up in small towns that were
      overwhelmingly non-Asian. Traversing both stage and screen work like
      Oh, Son is not only a playwright but a supervising producer and
      writer on the TV series "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." In an
      entertainment industry that still has relatively few prominent Asian
      faces, both are role models.

      The wherefores and whys of these women figure in Son's plays — and
      Oh's portrayals.

      "Diana writes things that represent her life, how she sees the
      world," says Oh, who speaks in bursts of heartfelt conviction,
      quietly yet engaged. "There is always a character that is somewhat
      like her. And if you can, you don't necessarily want to put a white
      girl there, you want to see yourself there because when you see
      someone who looks like you in that representational kind of way, it
      is so much more impactful and powerful than you know, really."

      In art, as in life, the shared experience makes a profound
      difference.

      "I really haven't had a lot of Korean people in my life as peers,"
      says Son, who grew up in Dover, Del., and now lives in New
      York. "But when Sandra and I started working together, my impression
      was and continues to be that she is so honest. I remember feeling,
      somebody understands me. I can trust her to tell my stories."

      "There's such a deep artistic bond between Sandra and Diana," says
      director Greif. "It's very wonderful to witness or be a part of it —
      the way they just inspire each other."

      Although Oh's fans remember her from the late-'90s HBO
      series "Arli$$," the actress made a splash as one of the four key
      characters in the film "Sideways," directed by her husband,
      Alexander Payne, from whom she has now split. Additionally, in the
      past year she's had roles in several films, including a small part
      in the upcoming "The Night Listener," with Robin Williams.

      *

      An early run of success

      BORN to Korean parents in Nepean, Ontario, Oh graduated from the
      National Theatre School of Canada in 1993. She hit the ground
      running in the Canadian entertainment industry, doing three projects
      in one year in which she played the lead: the CBC movie "The Diary
      of Evelyn Lau," Mina Shum's feature film "Double Happiness" and a
      short film about Canada's former governor general, the Chinese
      Canadian Adrienne Clarkson.

      "That one year, the most fantastic roles all called for an Asian
      girl who was about 20," Oh says. "But the point is, it hasn't
      happened since."

      However, that early good fortune gave her strength. "That luck in
      that first year out of school gave me a certain kind of resilience,"
      she says. "I'm the kind of person who, if work is not coming to me,
      I will always find something to do — play readings, short films. My
      strategy is to just keep working."

      Oh and Son first met in 1995 through playwright-director Chay Yew,
      then director of the Taper's Asian Theatre Workshop, which was
      terminated, along with all of the theater's other culture-specific
      development groups, in spring 2005. She most recently appeared on an
      L.A. stage in Yew's adaptation of Federico García Lorca's "The House
      of Bernarda Alba," which he directed at the Taper in 2002.

      "Diana was one of the first playwrights I invited to be part of the
      Taper's Asian Theatre Workshop as her work possessed a unique voice
      that was political, witty and whimsical," Yew says. "When she sent
      me her play 'Fishes,' a heartfelt and surreal parable about a young
      girl whose mother had turned into a fish, I immediately thought of
      Sandra Oh, whose movie 'Diary of Evelyn Lau' had then made an
      indelible impact on me. I knew Sandra would be able to approach the
      part of the daughter with great emotional honesty without losing the
      magical world that Diana had created. When the two of them met, it
      was as though they had both been separated by birth. I knew they
      would be collaborating together for years to come."

      Oh moved to L.A. in 1996, when HBO picked up "Arli$$." Around that
      time, Greif directed the premiere of Son's "Boy" at the La Jolla
      Playhouse, where he was artistic director from 1995 to '99. Oh was
      unable to join the cast because of conflicts with "Arli$$."
      However, "from that point on, anything that Diana has written, I've
      read or performed in a public setting," Oh says.

      "There's a wide range of roles that I could write for her, and I'm
      never consciously writing about myself," says Son, whose best-known
      play is "Stop Kiss," which premiered at the Public in 1999, the same
      year she landed a writing job on TV's "The West Wing." "I'm way more
      interested in pulling out autobiographical strands and mixing them
      with fictional."

      Such a mix is "Satellites," commissioned by the Public and first
      presented there in a 2004 reading, also directed by Greif. The play
      tells of an interracial couple, Korean American Nina and African
      American Miles, who move into a predominantly black Brooklyn
      neighborhood, in part because they want their child to have contact
      with African American culture.

      One of the play's themes is Miles and Nina's search for cultural
      identity. "I always write about identity," Son says. "I probably
      couldn't shake that theme if I wanted to. This play is sort of about
      racial identity, and also that transformation of changing your
      identity from this is who I am as an individual, to this is who I am
      as a parent."

      For Greif, "This play is about otherness. It's about two people who
      don't particularly feel comfortable in their own traditions. And it
      brings out very meaningful issues about how having a baby makes you
      question your own past."

      Oh isn't the kind of actress who waits for a director to hand her an
      interpretation of her character. On the contrary, Greif
      says, "Sandra came into this process with a very clear idea of who
      this woman is. She came in so full, so you always feel you're many
      steps ahead with someone that invested and that bright and that
      instinctual."

      "Nina doesn't speak Korean," says Oh, who doesn't speak her parents'
      language much either. "She grew up in a small town in America, so
      she doesn't necessarily have a close relationship with her culture."

      Where the play's resemblances to Son's life — and for that matter,
      Oh's — begin and end, only the playwright knows for sure. "I think
      when you write from a minority point of view, people assume it's
      autobiographical," Son says. "It discounts our imagination and our
      creativity. Even though my husband is white and Miles is black, it
      still concerned my husband that people would think Miles was him."

      Apparently, it's a mistake that even those on the inside can
      make. "Diana likes to remind me that the play is not
      autobiographical," Greif says. "I sometimes assume things that I
      shouldn't assume. So every once in while she's like, 'I made it up …
      that's not true … that didn't happen.' "
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