MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Last year, when the Antaeus Theatre Company found they could not take the stage, they decided to go a different route and develop theater for the ears — and many ears responded.
Over 45,000 people listened to their podcast series called the “Zip Code Plays,” which focused on six distinct neighborhoods around Los Angeles: South Central (90011), DTLA (90012), Westwood (90024), Pacific Palisades (90272), Santa Monica (90403) and Sun Valley (91352).
What You Need To Know
- 45,000 people listened to the first season of "The Zip Code Plays"
- The Antaeus Theatre Company podcast shines a spotlight on six diverse LA communities
- Season 2 features plays set in Echo Park, West Hollywood, North Hollywood, Inglewood, Pacoima and Monterey Park
- Season 2 is available for free at Antaeus.org
Now the spotlight is shifting to another six neighborhoods as the theater launches its second season.
The second set will take listeners to Echo Park (90026), West Hollywood (90069), North Hollywood (91601), Inglewood (90303), Pacoima (91331), and Monterey Park (91754).
Playwright Elizabeth Wong, who wrote the piece set in Monterey Park, was already a big fan of the podcast.
“They’re fantastic!” she beamed. “I mean, you get to learn about your own city and through the lens of different playwrights who have a different way of seeing the world.”
Changing the way her community is seen was high on her priority list. Sitting in the Garvey Ranch Park, near a small grove of donated cherry trees, Wong wore a mask with a quote from actress Sandra Oh that reads, “It’s an honor just to be Asian.”
However, she said that lately it is also a danger. So much so, that she sometimes wears the mask inside out.
“That’s a sad commentary that I feel like I have to do that,” she said. “The anti-Asian hate has been so rampant.”
The rise in violence and harassment again Asian Americans has been a great concern in Monterey Park, which has been dubbed the first Suburban Chinatown.
Cici Lau has lived in the city since 1979. Her husband was the mayor when the cherry blossoms were planted.
“We have 13 parks in Monterey Park so that’s why it’s called Monterey Park,” she said with a chuckle.
She is one of three actors in Wong’s play, “Bingo, Bitches,” which is set at the Langley Senior Citizen Center.
“This is where the bingo happens,” Wong said.
It is not an accident. Wong specifically wanted her play, a comedy, to center around Asian senior citizens.
“There was so much happening to seniors, my elders,” she said. “They are being brutally attacked and they don’t stand a chance of being able to defend themselves. And the reason they are being attacked is people don’t see them as being human.”
She wanted to find a way to humanize them, she explained, “to help people recognize that my grandmothers are like your grandmothers.”
Lau said she has experienced racist comments since she was a child, but nothing like what is happening now.
“When I see an old lady being attacked or killed, I’m already, I felt the emotion,” she said. “You know? How they can do that to us? We are just human beings. You cannot just say, ‘oh, they look different. Now I can kick them or kill them.”
Part of the issue, the women feel is perception.
“We are often misunderstood,” Wong said, “We’re often unseen.”
The only way she knows how to change that is by changing the narrative, which is why she wrote a comedy.
“Comedy is the way I see the world,” she explained. “And laughter is very healing so there’s a method to the madness. A way for me to humanize but also to heal.”
Sitting in the park, the two women laugh about common misconceptions.
“That we don’t have a sense of humor!” Wong said.
“Yeah! We work hard, you know?” Lau chimed in.
“They’re so industrious!” Wong parroted.
“Yeah and so quiet!” Lau added. “No! You know, we are funny people!”
Monterey Park’s motto is “pride in the past, faith in the future.” Shopping for Chinese sour plums, a candy featured in the play, the two women are once again like little girls, rediscovering a childhood favorite.
“You don’t look pretty when you eat it!” Wong said as her face tightened.
“It’s sour!” Lau shouted.
“Not as sour as I remember,” Wong said a few moments later as the two women rolled the candy around in their mouths.
Lau let out another yell in dissent, forcing Wong to reconsider.
“Ok, it’s pretty sour,” she admitted in a whisper.
Like the city, Lau has faith in the future. She is hopeful the wave of hate will end, just like the pandemic is coming to an end, and she already knows what she wants to do as soon as theaters reopen.
“When this is over, we can put up the show!” she told Wong.
Bingo. Live Theater.
Season 2 of “The Zip Code Plays” is available free and launches on May 20. For more information, visit Antaeus.org.