We feel deeply honored to have commissioned and presented 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, Mr. Chen is being commissioned by many of America’s leading theatres. We were also lucky to team up with The Vineyard Theatre in New York to develop Harm, with workshops on East and West Coasts that led to our production last spring in the The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. All of this work made You Mean to Do Me Harm our most promising Sandbox project since Aaron Loeb’s Ideation, which is why, as with Aaron’s play, we decided to move it to our Mainstage, where we can give it the full production it richly deserves.
Mr. Chen has given us an essential story about young urban professionals who are witty, and sophisticated, but still struggle to define themselves 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 interracial couples in a nightmarish series of events that spiral out of control and spin them and us into a surreal landscape where reality ends and paranoia begins. More prescient now than a year and a half ago, it is set against the backdrop of Sino-American political and business relations and focuses on the ways racial misunderstandings and microaggressions contaminate personal relationships.
As the encounters devolve, our grip on what is real and what is imagined starts to slip, as does that of our protagonist, Daniel. Is he 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 our perceptions so that we feel what it must be like to be an outsider in a world where what we are told can never quite be trusted.
How do we make sense of seemingly contradictory versions of reality? In a nation where “truth is not truth,” 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, Mr. Chen leads us to an understanding of how unmoored those from minority cultures can feel.