We feel deeply honored to have commissioned and now to present the World Premiere of You Mean to Do Me Harm by Christopher Chen. A San Francisco native and one of our nation’s most promising young playwrights, Chris just won the Obie Award for Playwriting for his play Caught. San Francisco Playhouse has also been lucky to team up with The Vineyard Theatre in New York to develop this play, which has had 4 workshops on the East and West coasts, the most recent being a 3-week workshop at the Vineyard last summer that culminated in a series of public readings. This collaboration on our commission has made Harm, along with Aaron Loeb’s Ideation, one of our most exciting Sandbox presentations yet.
Mr. Chen has given us a much-needed story about young urban professionals—witty, brilliant, sophisticated, but still struggling to define themselves and find their place in a society lacking moral guidelines and infected by subtle and insidious forms of racism. A fateful dinner party ignites cultural misunderstandings and conflicts, embroiling these two racially mixed couples in a nightmarish series of events that spiral increasingly out of control, spinning them and us into a surreal landscape where we’re never quite sure where reality ends and paranoia begins. Set against the backdrop of Sino-American political and business relations, Harm focuses on the way racial misunderstandings and micro-aggressions are expressed in the microcosm of personal relationships.
As the encounters devolve, our grip on what is actually happening and what is imagined starts slipping—as does our protagonist’s grip on whether he is being paranoid or victimized by subtle racism. Does he just have an overactive imagination? Or are the subtle comments of his wife and friends taking aim at his identity? Mr. Chen pulls the rug out from under his characters—and us—by twisting the nature of the play’s metaphysics so that we understand what it must be like to be an outsider in the white world where what one is told or led to believe can never quite be trusted. Of course, we also wonder, along with quantum physicists, whether there are parallel universes running alongside the one we are most familiar with. Does what we imagine take on its own validity? How do we make sense of seemingly contradictory information? What are the insidious layers of micro-racism that erode the possibility of trust? By throwing us into this Rashomon-like world of multiple unprovable truths, we are led to an understanding of how unmoored those from minority cultures can feel.