Monday, August 22, 2005

Learn Something From a Visionary

What follows is an account of our evening at Jason Scott Lee's house. But first, please read a little about Lee from this article.

Through a ridiculous series of events, on our honeymoon, Liz and I ended up crossing paths with actor Jason Scott Lee. You may remember him from his brilliant starring roles in "Map of the Human Heart", "Rapa Nui", "Jungle Book" and of course, "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story".

While staying on the Big Island, we made a day drive around the perimter to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, so we could hike the interior of the crater and peep the lava floes. On the way out, we had an hour to kill before our dinner reservation, so we stopped at the administrative office for the Volcano Art Center.

While chatting with the staff there, I noticed a flyer for a play "Burn This!" featuring Lee. I asked the staff, and they said that it was at his house, less than fifteen minutes away and there was going to be an opening performance that night.

According to the staff member, Lee bought property in Volcano Town where he practices ecologically sound farming, built his own theatre there, and has performances there. As we left the Art Center, we stopped at the local general store and picked up tickets for the night's showing.

I was so excited that I couldn't really focus on dinner, even though it was at a pretty expensive restaurant. I think Liz was pretty worried since we still had to drive back about four hours to the condo we were staying at and I alternated between gushing ecstatically about the upcoming performance and falling asleep on my place.

After we finished dinner, we went back to the general store and grabbed some rice candy just as it was closing. We napped in the parking lot for a half-hour or so and then headed out to Lee's house. We left the main road front town and traveled several miles over rolling roads as tropical fauna surrounded us. As we entered his driveway, there was a Torii (Japanese traditional gate) that we passed through. The parking lot was basically his front yard.

There was already a crowd gathering out front of the barred theatre doors. We made eye contact and smiled with some of the other patrons, who were predominantly of Asian or native Hawaiian descent. There were some folks speaking Chinese, and then a number of folks speaking in heavy Hawaiian accents. We explored the grounds a little, which had a rainwater hand-washing container, the theatre, a refreshment area, a bulletin board with newspaper clippings about the theatre, and were flanking by Lee's agricultural exploits. The bulletin board had a number of cute thank-you letters from kids who had come on a school trip to learn about Lee's farming techniques.

When I was just finishing reading one of the articles, the house manager emerged from the theatre ringing a little cowbell to signal the opening of the house. We were led around to a side entrance and into the theatre. The manager advised us, "Sit up there to the right--those are the best seats!"

The theatre was beautiful--all wood, hand-built. There were a number of beautiful wall hangings. Throughout the performance there was this unique feel--the sets effectively communicated the setting of "Burn This!"--a loft apartment in NYC, but the theatre felt alive with its life-force of this beautiful setting in Hawaii.

The play itself was an intense experience. It focused on the lives of three friends and the brother of their friend who just passed away. What was interesting was how Lee cast the love interest--himself as the brother, an Asian American actress as the other lead who leaves her rich WASP cokehead boyfriend for him. The fourth role was an African American actor playing the woman's gay roommate. I wasn't sure how to feel about his role--it was written a little too "gay comic relief" for my tastes, but the actor was so brilliant in the role--he came across more as "a witty person who happened to be gay" rather than "guy who is gay and therefore funny". He also was probably the most wise of the main characters and so he ended up being more human than stereotype.

Since we had followed the house manager's suggestion, when the actors would give their soliloquies, they were about six inches from our faces. I was engrossed in the production, but several times, I did catch myself thinking, "Jason Scott Lee is only six inches from me! I could totally just slap him affectionately right now!"

As the show wrapped up, we really wanted to stay and chat with the crowd and cast, but we were worried about driving along the desolate, unlit mountain roads, so we headed out.

There were few others on the route, but the beautiful moon and our spirited discussion of the play guided us safely home.

Looking back, I don't think it was the production itself that made me so moved by the evening. The more I learned about Lee--his refusal to be controlled and used by Hollywood, his commitment to a better society and environment, his desire to mentor kids and young actors, and his strategic approach to issues of race in the entertainment industry--the more gratitude I felt that we had been welcomed to his home and allowed to share in his amazing life.

I mean everyone and their momma has good motives right? But how many people actually sacrifice and change their lifestyle to be better people and create a better society


Anonymous toml [44s] said...

Wow, what an awesome experience! Thanks for sharing it.

Hope you and Liz had a great Honeymoon!

7:21 PM  
Blogger xian said...

thanks for your well wishes, toml. we really did have a great first eight days. here's to a brilliant next eighty years with a better society for all of us.

12:02 AM  

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