I first met Judy Soo Hoo in our graduate MFA program. She was one of the first students to share in our writers’ workshop, and even then, I thought her work was energetic, lively, and original. We were fiction writers together, so it was a funny coincidence when I moved to Los Angeles, decided to be an actress, and landed an understudy role in a play that she was commissioned to write for East West Players through their Theatre for Youth Program.
Little did I know, prior to our time in grad school, Judy had been writing plays for years. She started in a playwriting class in the David Henry Hwang Writers Institute (DHHWI) and went on to produce shows with the Asian American Theatre Lodestone, Watts Theatre Project, and Company of Angels. She eventually went on to teach playwriting with the DHHWI. This past year, Judy has been a part of Center Theatre Group’s Writers’ Workshop, an all-female group (at least this season) run by playwright Luis Alfaro, an Associate Artistic Director at CTG and a professor of Dramatic Arts at USC. Judy values Alfaro’s emphasis on the creative process and his insistence that the roots of a play begin in our subconscious. Alfaro encourages the writers to “write from the body.” As Judy puts it “writing from the body allows the writer to tap into the emotion that is swimming in the play.”
Starting last summer, the group met bi-weekly to talk shop and share pages. This past Spring, they had a retreat at the Mark Taper to have their work read aloud by professional actors and to receive feedback to support the development process. This week, their plays will have professionally staged readings at the Kirk Douglas, as the culmination of their year-long playwriting communion.
Judy’s play “What Lies Behind” is about a Chinese American woman attempting to solve the disappearance of her sister by signing-up her dementia-afflicted father, who was the last person to have seen her, in a gene-editing study that may recall his memory. Judy very much wanted to explore the mystery genre “as a way to explore family relationships”. The play was inspired, in part, by Judy’s own mother’s experience with dementia in her final year. Judy acted as her mother’s primary caretaker and recalls a time when her mother did not recognize her at all, instead calling her by someone else’s name. This, of course, would be jarring for any adult child and prompted Judy to delve into the questions around what and “how we remember” our lost loved ones.
Another theme of the play—what is rising from Judy’s subconscious—is the wave of anti-Asian violence in America. Libby, the play’s protagonist, is also the host of “Yellow Peril”, a podcast that discusses anti-Asian violence. Libby’s growing concern with the spate of racially motivated violent crime promises to converge with the unravelling mystery of the missing sister.
The reading of “What Lies Behind”, directed by Jeff Liu, is this Friday, September 9 at 8pm. For tickets, please visit ticketing for this event at Center Theater Group.