‘A Girl Named Sue’ explores important, little-discussed racial issues

“A Girl Named Sue” is a new play by Vietnamese-American playwright Christine Hoang with songs by award-winning Korean-American singer/songwriter BettySoo. Contributed by Steve Rogers Photography

Jordan Peele’s movie “Get Out” is rightfully getting a great deal of positive press and critical acclaim for its interrogation of racial issues surrounding a relationship between a black man and a white woman, couched within a wildly entertaining horror film. However, as Austin playwright Christine Hoang’s new play “A Girl Named Sue” shows, there are more shades of color in America than just white and black.

“A Girl Named Sue,” produced by Color Arc Productions and playing through March 12 at Trinity Street Theatre, is something unique for Austin theater — a play that is about the modern Asian-American experience.

More specifically, “A Girl Named Sue” explores the intricacies of a budding relationship between a 19-year-old Vietnamese woman, Sue (played by Uyen-Anh Dang), and an older black man, Cash (Matrex Kilgore). Not only does the couple have to negotiate their racial and cultural differences, but their disparity in age and experience also becomes a problem. Added to the thick of this are Sue’s mother (Hoang), as well as her best friend, Talisa (Toni Lorene Baker), and Cash’s friend/boss, Rashad (Jeffrey Da’Shade Johnson), both of whom are African-American.

The vast majority of the play takes place in a coffee shop near a college campus where the conversation flows as freely as the java. That setting largely emblematizes “A Girl Named Sue,” which is a caffeinated play of ideas. Witty dialogue and energetic performances provide the driving engine of the show, which is large on discussion and relatively low on action.

That’s not a bad thing, of course; Hoang is far more interested in exploring her ideas through dialogue and humor than through visual spectacle. Director Karen Jambon has taken a similar approach, keeping much of the dialogue between characters largely seated while direct addresses to the audience are punctuated by standing. Anne Marie Gordon’s scenic design supports this vision, turning the theater into an intimate, slightly hipster-y coffee shop that the audience, at times, directly becomes part of.

The strongest moments in the play are when it becomes deliberately performative, whether that is through the spoken word poetry of the main characters (where Johnson’s Rashad especially shines) or the periodic musical performances by folk singer-songwriter BettySoo, whose gorgeous, moving ballads comment on the themes of the scenes they punctuate. “A Girl Named Sue” could use a bit more of these scenes that play with form and structure, along with a bit of judicious cutting of some of the longer dialogues, where the energy lags a bit.

On the whole, however, “A Girl Named Sue” is a witty, self-aware, thoughtful new play that provides a vital, but warm, perspective on one of the most difficult issues of our time — what it means to be a person of color, and especially a woman of color, in America.

“A Girl Named Sue”

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through March 12

Where: Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St.

Cost: $15-$25

Information: colorarcproductions.com

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