‘Man of God’ captures female rage and resistance

Published May 13, 2024, 10:07 p.m., last updated May 13, 2024, 10:55 p.m.

Content warning: This article contains references to sexual violence.

This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

At 7:55 p.m. on Saturday night, the Nitery stage lay dormant, an ominously still tableau of a hotel room waiting to be filled with humor, betrayal and epiphany. Projections of camera feeds, paired with prophetically sinister audio, inhabited the space for the next five minutes as the theater’s audience filled the room.

Five minutes later, the lights dimmed as a girl walked on stage and discovered a hidden camera in her hotel room. For the next hour and a half, the Asian American Theater Project’s (AATP) MainStage production, “Man of God,” explored ideas of feminine rage, togetherness, archetype and the male gaze.

“Man of God” began by introducing its four main characters, all members of a Korean Christian youth group on a mission trip to Bangkok: Samantha (Emma Hong ’26), Kyung-Hwa (Junah Jang ’25), Mimi (Serena Tran ’25) and Jen (Chloe Chow ’23 M.A. ’24).

While the group is clearly well-acquainted, their colliding personalities seemed to put them at odds with one another. Through numerous bouts of banter, each member of the quartet established themselves as a specific archetype of woman. Samantha was almost infantilized by her naivete, Kyung-Hwa’s devotion to her religious beliefs led her into multiple arguments with other characters, Mimi’s irreverence sprouted as a reaction to being unseen and Jen’s dedication to her education became her defining characteristic.

The juxtaposition of these four character archetypes, made all the more apparent by their aptly designed costumes (created by Dana Chiueh ’23 M.A. ’24), brought to life an ensemble that struck a perfect balance between comedic disputes and serious conversations.

After finding a hidden camera in their bathroom, the group panics and attempts to contact their pastor (Henry Tian ’27), only to later discover that the camera had a label marking it as the property of their church.  

At this point, the reality that friends are faced with deepens as they realize that their pastor, someone they had trusted for years, was watching them. The incongruous cast dealt with this information in their own unique ways, with Samantha struggling the most to accept that their pastor could have done something so invasive.

As Samantha faints, the show continues with a series of fantasy revenge sequence. In the first one, Samantha imagines herself fighting the pastor in a taekwondo adjacent action sequence (choreographed by Matthew Canlas ’24 and Eli Shi ’24). The rest of the sequences punctuated the show as intermissions from the main plot, portraying dramatic vignettes of Jen shooting the pastor and the group harvesting his kidneys. The audience watched the pastor ‘die’ three times as three of the actresses process their relationships to him — and the patriarchal concepts he represents — in their own ways. 

Each fantasy scene was dramatically lit in a pseudo-cinematic way, with harsh reds and blues illuminating the actors’ serious faces. Tran’s performance as Mimi was particularly striking during the final revenge sequence, with a startlingly relatable display of manic aggression reminiscent of Stephanie Hsu’s Jobu Tupaki in “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.”

Although the show’s events took place entirely within a hotel room, it was not limited by its singular location. Instead, the finite staging contributed to a feeling of claustrophobia — the emotional “trappedness” felt by characters paralyzed by the sexism and sexualization that surrounded them at every corner.

Beyond the technical, the show’s true strength lied in its ability to portray the female experience — both the good and the bad. Throughout the performance, I kept finding myself thinking this is so ‘girl.

I was struck by how fluidly the group moved between small tiffs over makeup or follower counts to moments of solidarity borne of common experience. The show made a point to connect each of these aspects of girlhood and stitch them together as a patchwork of the female experience under the patriarchy.

One of the most powerful moments of the show, and a major turning point for the group, occurred when Kyung-Hwa revealed that she had been sexually abused by two of her family members as a child. In a show filled with cast members arguing and speaking over each other, this was one of the first moments where the group felt united by a common understanding. For once, the stage was quiet. The cast finished one another’s sentences; even though not all of them had the same experiences as Kyung-Hwa, they all related to the experience of being objectified and violated by the male-driven society that surrounds them.

The show’s message expanded outwards, and clearly resonated with its audience — the end of one revenge fantasy was marked by an audience member yelling “drag his ass!” in support of the group disposing of the pastor’s body after he was ‘killed’ by Jen. 

It was made clear by the cheers during revenge sequences that, while not all audience members may have shared the exact experiences of the characters of “Man of God,” they could empathize with their emotions. There was a particular depth added to the show because of its performance on a college campus, to an audience filled in part by college-aged women. 

The end of the show was marked by silence. The pastor gives a long build-up to an apology, before frustrating the group and the audience alike by only apologizing instead for mis-scheduling the trip’s return flights. Jen and Kyung-Hwa tried to stand up to him before their courage sputtered into silence, and the four girls each individually gave up and began to pack their things.

This scene was the slowest in the show. The set called its realism to attention as the girls silently packed their bags in resignation and the audience was suddenly reminded of the disheveled luggage that scattered the stage. 

The show’s exploration of the female experience came to a poetic conclusion when Kyung-Hwa stopped the pastor when he tried to drink a laced juice that the group had once planned on using to kill him. Despite their prior imaginings of the pastor’s demise, the characters, much like the audience, return home to their ordinary lives. But the audience members, if they were anything like me, went home feeling recognized, having found four new faces with whom they could relate their own experiences.

Ellen Kim is a writer for the News section. Contact them at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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