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By Brian Robin

Throwing Comedic Light Into the Darkness

In her well-received play, Exotic Deadly or the MSG Play, Keiko Green found a way to make the food additive-turned addictive drug funny. She described her play, Sharon, as a “psychological thriller farce,” her unique way of describing a story that unfolds with a mixture of absurd drama and high-level mystery.

In Stupid Little Bugs (A Musical), Green made the cutthroat world of high school theatre funny—all the while casting a light on how society fails young women.

So imagine what Green and her comedic abilities can do when she’s given the template of a pandemic, the loss of both of her in-laws in six months and an untethered leash to dive into something she’s been interested in for a long time.

The result is You Are Cordially Invited to the End of the World. The play is one of the selected readings for this year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. The nationally recognized annual showcase of new playwriting talent is May 3-5.

Directed by Zi Alikhan, You Are Cordially Invited to the End of the World takes the Nicholas Stage for three readings: Friday, May 3, at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 4, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 5, at 2:30 p.m. It tells the story of a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer for Greg in the greater context of the planet being on its last legs, too—courtesy of climate change. Coincidence? Not for Greg. After all, the world’s too big not to be kind of magical.

Yes, Green managed to make two cataclysmic events darkly funny. Because that’s what the Georgia native does. To her, every situation comes with something humorous.

“What I love about the idea of dark comedy is it feels human,” she said. “I’m always trying to write a drama and what ends up happening is my sense of humor starts to creep in. My parents aren’t artists. My dad is an engineer and my mom is a translator and I always think about them when I’m writing. I don’t want to write a play that feels like a lecture or a gaping wound. I want to make sure they’re entertained.

“So, comedy always ends up creeping in. That way, we can get people on board, entertain them and make sure they’re having a good time. Then, wallop them with surprise catharsis. Even though I write a lot of dark comedies, all of them have a hopeful tone to them. I never want to leave an audience feeling awful. I want to make sure they’re leaving with a little pep in their step.”

With You Are Cordially Invited to the End of the World, Green used the profound sense of loss she felt when her mother-in-law died just as the pandemic was exploding in March 2020. Six months later, she lost her father-in-law.

“I talked to my husband a lot and he said he felt like a little of the gravity we were experiencing was usurped by the world and the pandemic. He said ‘The world stopped when my mom died.’ That sentence stayed with me. We had a lot of loss that year and through that, we found so much connection with family as the whole world was grieving. Everyone we knew experienced some kind of loss. …

“I had gotten that commission (from ACT in Seattle) and instead of shying away from the sad idea or a theme, I thought, ‘How can I make it a play you can laugh at—while experiencing a play about grief?’ I thought instead of making it something that feels traumatic, making it a play that feels like a celebration of life—with explosive catharsis. I wanted to bring the idea of what my husband said: that it felt so real the world would stop.”

Eventually, ACT passed on programming the play due to its large cast size, but Green was already off and writing. The idea of one person having an effect on the world intrigued her. So did the idea of the world itself facing its mortality. Green relished the concept of researching climate change, because it took her out of her comfort zone.

How she made the connection between terminal pancreatic cancer and climate change gives a glimpse at how Green’s brain works when she writes.

“Is Greg’s death connected with the death of the entire world, or is it not,” she asked. “What’s it like to live in a world where it is. If one person’s life means life or death for the entire planet, what does that mean and what does it look like? Once I started writing it, it started to come out.”

Originally trained as an actor at NYU, Green became frustrated when she endured a conga line of roles for Asian actors that consisted mainly of either geishas or prostitutes. She reached professional critical mass when she auditioned for a role in “Lipstick Jungle,” a “Sex In the City”-inspired knockoff.

“It was for the role of ‘Geisha Masseuse.’ They wanted an accent and I thought, ‘Maybe I do this thing where she has an accent until she realizes there are no customers, then she takes the accent off.’ In the audition, it became clear they weren’t interested,” she said. “I started to think about how I was being used in the entertainment industry. I moved to Seattle and got my Equity card playing prostitutes and sexualized roles. I always thought there was more for us, so I started writing.

“I started writing the kind of roles I wish I had gotten to audition for. I write Asian American identity plays, but I’m exploring the rest of me. I’m at the place where I’m not being pigeon-holed and I can write about any topic I want.”

So how would she describe You Are Cordially Invited to the End of the World?

“This play is what I would call an ‘epic, darkly comedic spectacle,’” she said. “It’s such an exploration. It’s fun and funny, but the events and especially the spectacle part is what gets you. I’m trying to get people to laugh at things they’re not supposed to.”

Experience Green’s comedic voice, along with the other plays at this year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. Tickets are on sale and can be purchased online at SCR.orgor by calling SCR Ticket Services at (714) 708-5555. Don’t miss the chance to see tomorrow’s big hit today.

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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