Charlie Chan is dead
Playwright explores Asian male stereotypes in culture, media, society
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Sep 27, 2012 | 5359 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Playwright Jonathan G. Galvez will perform his one-act play “Musical Theater for Asian Males (Only Edition)” this weekend as part of the So Low Theater Festival at Art House Productions.
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When playwright Jonathan G. Galvez was studying theater in college, a professor gave his class a typical drama studies assignment: Each student was asked to make a list of the types of roles he or she could play.

Galvez, who is Asian, said that while other students in his class listed typical archetypes – the buddy/best friend, the frat boy, the femme fatal, the mother, etc. – he was challenged by his teacher when he listed similar roles for himself. After his teacher questioned his ability to play these generic roles, an in-class argument ensued.

“In theater, you’re always told that you should play to your type. Play to the types of roles you’re good at,” said Galvez, who is currently working on his MFA at Hollins University. “But when it comes to people of color, we’re told to play to our race.”


‘Race is a matter of how you choose to look at it.’ – Jonathan G. Galvez


This incident stood out so strongly in his mind that years later it has partially inspired “Musical Theater for Asian Males (Only Edition),” a one act play Galvez will perform twice this weekend as part of the So Low Theater Festival at Art House Productions in Jersey City.


“The play basically looks at the stereotypes ascribed to Asian men, but also questions whether the Asian community is doing enough to combat those stereotypes,” said Galvez.

He said the play traces some of his own experiences in the theater world, where he has sometimes been typecast for certain parts and excluded from other roles.

The play also looks at the world beyond the stage and examines racial prejudice against Asians in the broader society. “Musical Theater for Asian Males (Only Edition)” was, for instance, partially inspired by the death of Danny Chen, a Chinese-American soldier who was serving in Afghanistan, where he was taunted and harassed by his fellow servicemen because of his race. Chen died in Afghanistan last October. It was initially believed that Chen committed suicide, but several of Chen’s fellow soldiers were eventually charged with criminally negligent homicide in connection with his death.

Many people believe Chen was murdered and that his death was a hate crime.

Despite the work’s somber genesis, Galvez said the play “pokes fun at certain stereotypes and reminds us that the concept of race, and how we define race, is a matter of how you choose to look at it.”

Galvez will perform “Musical Theater for Asian Males (Only Edition)” on Friday, Sept. 28 at 8:15 p.m. and again on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. The running time is 45 minutes. There is no intermission.

The rest of the Fest

Galvez’s play is part of a collection of works that will be performed this weekend at Art House Productions as part of the So Low Theater Festival. The festival will present one act plays from emerging playwrights.

Nine other playwrights will also showcase their latest work, including Mark Williams, Summer Dawn Hortillosa, Alana Jackler, Ismail Azeem, John Watts, Gabby Creery, Kate Kaiser, Daniel Wilson, and Ariel Seidman-Wright. Each writer will present his or her own work for the festival.

Tickets for each show are $6 and can be purchased at the door.

Art House Productions is located at 1 McWilliams Place, at Hamilton Square. For more information regarding the So Low Festival and performance scheduling, visit or call (201) 915-9911.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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