Nicole Milinkovic, Kaori Maeda-Judge and Deborah An in STC's White Pearl. Photo: Rene Vaile
The old adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity" will be put to the test in Anchuli Felicia King's fast-paced comedy White Pearl, which will finally play STC’s Wharf 1 Theatre from March 11 after being postponed twice due to the pandemic.
Described by Time Out as a “blisteringly funny satire”, White Pearl documents the fall-out at Singaporean-based cosmetics start-up Clearday after a racist ad for the company’s skin-whitening cream ‘White Pearl’ goes viral.
A co-production with Riverside’s The National Theatre of Parramatta, White Pearl had a sold-out premiere there in 2019 and acclaimed productions at London’s Royal Court Theatre, Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. In 2021, the show's tour to Queensland Theatre was cut short and the Sydney premiere season cancelled due to the Delta outbreak.
In White Pearl, King – who was STC’s 2019 Patrick White Playwrights Fellow – deftly unravels toxic corporate culture, the complexity of Pan-Asian relations and racism.
“White Pearl explores a grocery list of themes – the beauty industry, the multiplicity of “Asian” identities, intra-cultural racism, millennial corporate culture, global discourse and the internet, and shame as a cultural commodity,” King says.
“At its core, White Pearl is really about communication: the ways we use language to gain or cede power. I'm so excited to get to share this play with Australian audiences again in 2021, in a historical moment where it feels more timely than ever."
The show puts six young, Asian women at its centre – played in this production by Deborah An, Manali Datar, Melissa Gan, Kaori Maeda-Judge, Nicole Milinkovic and Shirong Wu – who are joined by Stephen Madsen who rounds out the ensemble as a manipulative French ex-boyfriend.
The production is directed by Priscilla Jackman (Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story), who said she was “swept away by the power and provocation of King’s unique voice and her mastery of language” on her first reading of White Pearl.
“I had never read a play like it – the razor sharp idiomatic specificity the six striking and distinctive female voices, the sophistication and slickness of her spellbinding tempo rhythms and the depth of her subversive comedy, that seems to entice and decimate simultaneously,” Jackman said.
“White Pearl is a fierce text, about the leaking of a racist ad that goes viral. But more importantly, for us, it is a play about power and language. White Pearl interrogates the irrefutable complexities of PC culture, challenging the privileges of language and identity while offering profound provocations into our human inter-relationships. It invites us into a political conversation around power, perspective, cultural currency and consumerism - ultimately asking us to question what unites us in our humanity and what tears us apart.”
Anchuli Felicia King is a playwright, screenwriter and multidisciplinary artist of Thai-Australian descent. As a playwright, she is interested in linguistic hybrids, digital cultures and issues of globalisation. Her plays have been produced by the Royal Court Theatre (London), Studio Theatre (Washington D.C.), American Shakespeare Center (Staunton), Melbourne Theatre Company (Melbourne), Sydney Theatre Company, National Theatre of Parramatta and Belvoir Theatre (Sydney).
As a multidisciplinary artist, King has worked with a wide range of companies and institutions, including Punchdrunk, PlayCo, 3LD Arts & Technology Center, Roundabout Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, 59E59, Ars Nova, the Obie Awards, The Builders Association, Ensemble Studio Theater, NYTW, American Shakespeare Company and Red Bull Theater. She is a member of Ensemble Studio Theater’s Youngblood Group and Roundabout Theater’s Space Jam Program.
White Pearl is on at the Wharf 1 Theatre from March 11 to April 23.