Quippy and Clever World Premiere ‘Exotic Deadly’ opens at The Old Globe
By Cassiopeia Guthrie, April 16, 2023
People of my generation or those who went hard on 90s canon during the pandemic may remember the way that one guy said “clever girl” in thriller flick Jurassic Park just before his untimely death. Recall that admiration in his tone? If you know the reference (and likewise admire clever writing and performance work), you may be the perfect audience for The Old Globe's newest production, Exotic Deadly: Or the MSG Play, which plays at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through May 7.
The show follows Ami, an Asian American high schooler in 1990s suburban America. Ami’s general goal in life is to blend in; much to her chagrin, her mom packs a daily bento that she feels marks her as an outsider. Then, one day, the incomprehensible happens: Ami discovers that her family was responsible for the invention of the reportedly insidious additive MSG. As she works to reckon with her newfound knowledge and to navigate a new friendship with an edgy newcomer from Japan, Ami can’t help but trip down the rabbit hole of fantasy adventure chasing the truth and an opportunity to save the world from her family’s dangerous legacy.
Crafted in a way that is bitingly witty, playwright Keiko Green has gone all out to devise a show that laughs at itself but also doesn’t pull punches, elevating a variety of other ideas and connections from xenophobia to lack of media literacy. “The faces in the crowd shifted and instead of applause, I heard fear,” one character shares. Another asks, “Why was it so easy to make an entire country believe that this foreign thing… is bad?” These questions and statements are padded by tongue-in-cheek 90s pop culture references, dream sequences, and parodies that keep the storyline moving.
And while the script trips chaotically through time and fantasy alongside wearing a pretty lengthy single act stretch of an hour and 40 minutes, it is also easy to follow what is happening, who is who, and to stay engaged under the able direction of Jesca Prudencio as the members of the vibrant ensemble cast find perfect beats and line deliveries to cajole the audience into laughter.
Anna Mikami is charming and vulnerable as Ami, the teen at the center of the production. Her endearing awkwardness as she navigates everyday high school life is touchingly familiar, yet we also have a chance to see her bravery and determination as she traverses a big, unfamiliar world and multiple decades. The balance is lovely. Mikami appears opposite Eunice Bae as tough-on-the-exterior Exotic Deadly, a girl who is looking to start over but also contending with the trauma of a hidden past, as well as a quartet of ensemble actors who display exceptional range in multiple roles: Trevor Salter, Amy Kim Waschke, Michelangelo Hyeon, and James Seol.
Exotic Deadly: Or the MSG Play takes place on an easily manipulable round stage with four movable staircases and two docking platforms created by scenic designer Yu Shibagaki. The show is complemented by Hahnji Jang’s costumes, Cha See’s lighting, and Fan Zhang’s sound design and each of these components, while being stellar on their own, also serves to perfectly tie the show together seamlessly and cohesively.
Will those being put on trial in this play even notice? I doubt it. Nevertheless, as an Asian American woman who has experienced these eras myself (including many of the stereotypical situations shared), this production kept me fully entertained and I feel pretty confident in saying that the target audience for this production is wider than you might expect.
Exotic Deadly: Or the MSG Play runs at The Old Globe through May 7 and is definitely worth a trip down to Balboa Park.
View the digital program.