DSC 0912

You Mean To Do Me Harm

You Mean To Do Me Harm

 Written by Christopher Chen
Directed by Bill English
SF Playhouse

A casual comment during a dinner party of two interracial couples escalates into a web of deceits, power politics and gender roles in the World Premiere of Christopher Chen’s marvelously engineered You Mean To Do Me Harm. A master of subtle psychological interplay, Chen uses his Chinese heritage to illuminate issues of cultural bias exhibited superbly in the interactions between couples Samantha and Ben and Daniel and Lindsey.

Chen’s Obie Award winning Caught blew my mind with its challenging unconventional story line and YMTDMH has an equally surprising style that pulls the rug out from under you just when you think you have a handle on what he’s presenting.  Director Bill English commissioned this piece which was developed at the Sandbox Series last year, and he has actualized a minimalist set that highlights the cold-war tensions that escalate as the plot develops.

Lindsey (Katie Rubin) and Samantha (Charisse Loriaux) bond.

When the play opens, the two couples are enjoying cocktails and engaging in light banter. Seems Ben (Cassidy Brown) once dated Daniel’s wife Lindsey (Katie Rubin) and mentions a camping trip they once took. The talk gets a little testy from there as Ben’s wife Chinese born Samantha (Charisse Loriaux) challenges Lindsey on US-Sino foreign relations. Daniel (Jomar Tagatac) thinks Ben’s coming on to his wife. I thought, of course, these two couples are going to pull a wife swap after realizing like-minded people should stick together. But no, Chen is far too clever for that simplistic romcom plot.

In series of two on two dialogues, the characters grow increasingly deceitful, angry, paranoid and defensive. The two men face off, the two women bond, relationships are more than strained. All four actors remain on stage, the two non-speakers astutely watching the proceedings. Daniel’s feeling of being less than a white guy touch on issues of cultural emasculation. Samantha doesn’t want to be the exotic Oriental trophy wife, and Ben gets his comeuppance in the male dominated workplace.  Jarring static noises separate scenes and the characters constantly mention channels of thought. Something deeper is happening here and you won’t find out till the surprising finale.

Ben (Cassidy Brown) and Daniel (Jomar Tagatac) go at each other.

The acting is top-notch and Angrette McCloskey’s set design of mirrors, ramps and two vertical redwood logs is beautifully lit by Kurt Landisman. Theodore J. H. Hulsker zaps us with his sound design adding an element of the surreal. You Mean To Do Me Harm is an excellent opener for SF Playhouse’s 2018/19 season- intelligent, engaging and thought-provoking.

You Mean To Do Me Harm continues through November 3rd, 2018 at SF Playhouse, 588 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.sfplayhouse.org/ or by calling 415.677.9596

Photo credits by Jessica Palopoli