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Flash Review 1, 4-3: 'Big Dicks' and the Big Picture
SLANT's Wide-angle Lens

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

Lost in the cultural skirmishes of the last ten years -- which saw a rather bizarre reaction to what some viewed as art from objectionable points of view in which the NEA started funding art that addressed ever ghettoized segments -- is how great artists are able to start with a specific perspective and create a story of universal appeal. Such artist-activists (there's another dirty word that doesn't have to be) are SLANT, who last weekend reprised "Big Dicks, Asian Men," their first big hit, at La MaMa before taking it on the road to film their own "Hard Day's Night" (excuse the pun).

A couple of years ago, I was enjoying my afternoon stroll on Canal Street, en route to my $2 lunch cart special (squid over lo-mein and gluttonous peanut-chicken soup, a buck each, Grand and Forsythe), when I noticed a young salesman in distress. You would be too, if four burly NYPD Undercover cops were muscling you around, opening a panel under your counter of electronic tchotchkes, and sending one of their number burrowing below. The manner of the "undercovers" -- who never, by the way, look like my homey Benjamin Bratt -- was, "We own you, we own this corner, and the rest of you better back off and not fuck with us."

I never learned exactly what happened to that young man, but he likely found himself in a line-up similar to that which opens "Big Dicks." SLANTers Wayland Quintero, Perry Yung, and Richard Ebihara stand against a white scrim demarcated with the numbers 6/5/4/3, as a disembodied voice -- belonging to real retired cop Jim Shanahan -- asks a female witness if she can identify the man who sold her a counterfeit Gucci. One by one, Shanahan makes the three Asian men give a pitch for Guccis, Rolexes, and Obsession. Here's where the deconstruction starts. When Yung, who's Chinese, gives a pitch that fails to satisfy the sergeant , who insists he give it in a Chinese accent, Quintero, who's Filipino, interrupts and delivers the standard stereotype.

But when Ebihara answers that he was in fact near the scene of the crime, enjoying lunch, it's with not an "Asian" but an almost Cockney accent -- a voice he long ago adopted, he explains, to score better with chicks by mimicking Bond, James Bond.

Next -- or maybe it was before! -- the cop asks the three suspected perps to demonstrate how they would coax a customer into their shops, and some serious cajoling moves ensue.

While this is technically rock 'n' roll theater -- from the "Big Dicks, Asian Men" theme song played by the cast to an Asian-infused (complete with homemade Shakuhachi and gong) Buddha Blues, to an encore of "Secret Asian Man," with Ebihara silver-surfing the famous refrain -- movement enlivens this work of theater and is used to create some original challenges that become clear dramatic frameworks.

Before one section, we hear those what are they called bicycle ringers, and the curtain opens to reveal our heroes intently zooming in a (Sysiphusian?) circle on tricycles, each carrying delivery bags, and singing a song whose mournful refrain is "No menus, no menus please." In between the refrain we hear why they're doing this -- the families back home they need to feed, for instance.

The food is all that remains at the end, until three anorexic Sumo wrestlers enter, flexing and preening as if they really think they're 400 pounds. Ebihara and Yung devour their noodles, but Quintero just can't stomach his sandwich, causing his colleagues to warn him that he's got to stay on his diet and gain weight or they might be thrown off the team. Lunch downed, by the other two at least, they begin a ritualistic circling, making triangles and occasionally wrestling with each other, all the while kvetching, macho-style, about the complex female of the species. (Ebihara's gal has left him, taking all his things and leaving only six slices of meat loaf. "See, even she wants you to gain weight," one of the others points out.)

Speaking of, er, meat, the money shot, as it were, finds our three in one Dr. Urihara's clinic, in search of big dicks. Even as they're flaunting a stereotype here, tho, they toy with us by having the three take on distinct characters: Yung is an old school Wong, whose accent and nervous manner would make the character at home playing a coolie in a '50s B-Movie; Ebihara is a distantly-related Wong, so distant that he's become, in a hip-hop mode, a bruddah from another planet. Ebihara holds up the macho front, sporting a cowboy hat on top of and cowboy boots below his feminine hospital gown.

I don't want to give away what happens next and thus steal the punch line, but let's just say that this show's title isn't just an empty come on -- the boys do deliver.

SLANT's most recent show, "High," while certainly a romp, also had a darker undertone than "Dicks," addressing police brutality in a nuanced way that even allowed room for empathy with the cop character.

The darkest this earlier (1996) show gets is in a penultimate dance in which the three have to move, eviscerated really, with their pants down around their ankles. To a darkly rhythmic Equalizer type of music, illuminated by a reddish searchlight, they shuffle, turn with their hands up in the air and behind their backs -- the you're-under-arrest shuffle, in other words, echoing their earlier movement ushering a customer into their stores, until their pants come up, the scrim falls and the lights go out. A valiant dance moment, this section, in which they seemed to fight, really, as if to say, "No problem, don't worry about me, I'll get out of this. "

They did, for the "Secret Asian Man" encore, from which the following lyrics still haunt me tonight:

Secret Asian Man
They've given you a number
But taken away your name.

I don't want to take away from the race-specific oppressions referenced by SLANT. (Well, actually, I do want to take the oppressions away, but I don't want to steal their pain!) But the fear underlying "Big Dicks, Asian Men" is a universal one: That we'll be judged not for ourselves, for our own true deeds or misdeeds but as part of a group. Or, if you will, that we'll be denied -- love, really -- because we don't have attributes the Group supposedly values (big dick, big breasts...) What comes through most, after the belly is done guffawing, is the ridiculousness of both these ways of judging. That's why while I certainly laughed -- joining what sounded, anyway, like mostly young female giggles -- while I was in the theater, I left feeling more sobered. And wishing not only that people won't be alienated by the use of the word "Dicks" in the title of this show, but that by the use of the word "Asian," they won't think that if they're not Asian, this work's not talking to them. It is.

"Big Dicks, Asian Men" plays at the East -West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater in Los Angeles April 28. "Big Dicks" -- and audience interviews from various venues -- is also being filmed for later release by Michael Kang and Nancy Bulalacao. The goal, Yung told me, is to make "Big Dicks" available to the many smaller venues who want to book it, but cannot afford the cost of a live ensemble.

To read Maura Nguyen Donohue's review of "High," please click here.

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