Quick: Name a romantic comedy whose leads are Asian-American.
For playwright and TV writer Carla Ching, the fact that she could not come up with an answer to that question is more than a terrible trivia predicament. It has been a bur in her psyche.
“Since childhood, I’ve not seen myself on the screen or stage that way,” said Ching, who is Chinese-American.
So, about four years ago, Ching, who has written for “Graceland” and “Fear the Walking Dead” and is now working on the new Jill Soloway-helmed Amazon series “I Love Dick,” decided to do something about it. She wrote “The Two Kids That Blow S--- Up,” a rom-com about an edgy, messy relationship over 30 years. Then she put the play away in a drawer, never expecting it to be produced.
Now it is getting two productions — one at California’s Artists at Play, and another opening Friday at the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center, to kick off Mu Performing Arts’ 25th season.
“The problem hasn’t been that [such shows] weren’t written,” Ching said by phone from Los Angeles outside the “I Love Dick” writers’ room. “For all I know, there are plenty of such plays. It’s just that they haven’t been produced. I didn’t expect mine to be, either.”
“Two Kids” is about a relationship that survives complicated circumstances. Max and Diana meet at age 9 when their parents, who are partnered with other people, essentially tell them, “You play outside for bit.”
Inside, the parents are getting it on. They eventually marry, then divorce. Through it all, their kids maintain a strong friendship, even becoming lovers.
The play is told in a nonlinear fashion. “If I kept it chronological, then it would become a memory play,” said Ching. “I wanted to capture the epic feeling of the most important, most explosive moments in these people’s lives: when their parents broke up, got married, got divorced. The organizing principle was these big familial events that drew Max and Diana together.”
While the “Two Kids” are Asian-American, they do not lead with their identities, said director Randy Reyes, Mu’s artistic director.
“We are accustomed to seeing such [identity-based] shows because we’re still considered relatively new Americans, even though that’s not true,” said Reyes. “We rarely, if ever, hear this particular kind of story. And it’s important because little Asian-American kids, growing up, need to be able to see themselves in all roles and in all kinds of situations. And they need to see people stumbling forward as they try to find a way to be in relationships and to love.”
Close to actors’ hearts
The stars of this two-hander are Sun Mee Chomet and Sherwin Resurreccion, actors with preexisting chemistry who have performed together in several shows, including “Cowboy Versus Samurai” and “Circle Around This Island.” They know each other well, and identify deeply with their characters.
“As a child of divorce who had early challenges and chaos, I have a natural and organic connection to Diana,” said Chomet. “There are characters that you have to stretch for and those that you only lend your heart and dreams. Diana is beautifully complex. She and Max show us that the lows in life are as beautiful as the highs, and that we should live in the present. The life we have now is our life, and it’s beautiful in its flaws.”
For Resurreccion, Max also strikes close to home.
“He was raised by a single mom and so was I,” he said. “He doesn’t have the role model for how to be in a relationship, so he has to stumble forward to find it. Diana is his anchor and conscience. He could have bombs falling around him but if they’re together, he’s safe.”
Chomet said the play exposes what people try to hide as they shape the way they are seen via social media. “Everyone has a mess, although the mess is not idealized on TV or in movies or on Facebook,” said Chomet, noting the hint of taboo in the characters’ relationship as siblings. “But it’s what we live with, and it’s worth living fully.”
Reyes said that “Two Kids” is actually a story of America, as people find their way through trial and error. If it is truthful and universal, it’s because it’s so specific. It also hits him in the heart.
“People like Max and Diana have been invisible on our stages and in our culture, which causes me to crave their presence,” said Reyes. “Seeing them onstage, I see myself up there, with three dimensions around love and sexuality, around all the things that everyone struggles to understand. Finally.”
Who: By Carla Ching. Directed by Randy Reyes for Mu Performing Arts.
Where: Rarig Center, University of Minnesota, 330 21st Av. S., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 4 & 7:30 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu. Ends Sept. 18.
Tickets: $20. 651-789-1012 or MuPerformingArts.org