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REVIEW: “Pan-Damn-It!” — University of California, Irvine

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Exploring the Moral Conflict Between Individual Freedoms and Public Health

This past Sunday, November 15th, the UCI Center for Critical Korean Studies and UCI Illuminations presented the YouTube live broadcast, “Pan-Damn-It!” a Zoom play written by Kyung Hyun Kim, faculty member in the Department of East Asian Studies and Visual Studies at UC Irvine, and co-directed by Jane Page, faculty member in UCI’s Drama Department, along with Gavin Cameron-Webb, theatre director.

Jane Page is a professional director whose work is well known across the United States and abroad, including "Tartuffe" for the American University in Cairo, along with the European premiere of "Other Desert Cities" for the English Theatre of Vienna, where she had previously directed "God of Carnage." Other directorial productions include "The Great Goddess Bazaar," "Much Ado About Nothing," and the world Premiere of "Bestseller" at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. Among her other recent works is the West Coast Premiere of "Parliament Square" by British Award Winning playwright James Fritz, "I and You" at the Repertory Theatre of St Louis, and "All My Sons" for Swine Palace Productions.

Mr. Cameron-Webb is also an internationally recognized director, with over 35 years experience, producing such memorable works such as "Chapter Two" for Merrimack Repertory Theatre, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" for Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Roommate" for Florida Studio Theatre. He has taught at The Juilliard School, the Film Academy of Vienna, SUNY Purchase, and Webster University, and is a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

A creative writer and film producer, Mr. Kim has written extensively about Korean cinema and has worked with internationally renowned directors such as Hong Sang-soo, Lee Chang-dong and Martin Scorsese. Director Page and Mr. Cameron-Webb collaborated with Mr. Kim to ensure the Zoom play retained the same dramatic elements audience members would expect from traditional theater.

The script for "Pan-Damn-It!" is extremely topical and dramatizes the absurd and dangerous controversy that has blown up in the U.S. over wearing masks by juxtaposing the moral conflict between individual liberty and public health, and by exposing the invisible social divisions that are complicated by the dynamic multi-ethnic makeup of Southern California. A live Question and Answer session with the playwright, directors and cast members followed the performance.

This event, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Critical Korean Studies at UCI, follows the story of a Korean American man, P Kim, who experiences the symptoms of COVID-19 and must quarantine himself away from his own family. At the same time, he is embroiled in a debate over the wearing of masks with other parents at the school that his daughter attends. Both of these experiences were based on true events that Mr. Kim lived through during this past summer, which inspired him to write the play.

“I wanted to create a drama that gave a platform for these rather cautious voices and subjects that creeped out during the pandemic,” Mr. Kim explains. “Children’s school was and continues to be an important litmus test and even a lab for medical science, social tolerance, and a divided political system in America during the pandemic. So, I found school to be a perfect setting for such drama. Every element that belongs to tragedy, comedy, and even this Kafka-esque sense of the unknown were all there incubated in this actual debate on mask-wearing and school reopening."

"I hope one message the audience takes away is that we need to stop listening to our friends Tweeting ‘conspiracy theories’ on social media and instead trust our scientists who are trying to protect our health," Mr. Kim continues. “I know this sounds simple, but it’s not that easy. It does require sacrifice for everyone because our individual freedom and privacy would have to be compromised. It starts with a mask mandate but continues with restrictions in travel and meeting friends and family, and the need to allow health officials to look at our phone records and pictures to contact trace. We have to defend the health protocols that are going to infringe on our rights."

"Asian countries overall have had more success in mitigating the virus than European or American or even South American countries. Why? Not because Asians are simply better at mask-wearing but because they follow health protocols and allow contact tracers a greater degree of authority. The irony is that instead of Americans holding these metrics from Asia as models of success, there is an overwhelming attempt to discredit them as an ‘Asian way’ of state abuse and violation of individual rights,” said Mr. Kim.

“I have always felt that racism against Asians in this country is less explicit and visible, but one that is still vitriolic and insulting. And this comes in many forms. Many of the best scientists in this country failed to recognize the importance of face-coverings during the early stage of the pandemic because they perceived that masks were an ‘Asian’ thing rather than a scientific response to prevent the spread. While scientists have dramatically turned around to embrace mask-wearing, there are still many skeptics who continue to view mask-wearing as an ‘Asian’ thing."

"I was always amazed that the concept of ‘public health’ is difficult for Americans to fathom. Hopefully, after watching this play, or after this pandemic, the need to create a larger net of public health will become apparent for everyone. There is no ‘us-versus-them’ when it comes to health. Everyone’s health—and when I say everyone, I include everyone on this planet — is just as important as yours and mine.”

The cast for this timely and apposite ninety minute show was a mix of professional actors, UCI drama students and neighborhood children. The reading has ten actors involved reading fifteen roles. There are three children from the area, four actors who are either current students or alumni of UCI’s Department of Drama, a stage manager and a technical coordinator both are also from UCI’s Department of Drama. The cast is rounded out with professional actors from L.A. and Long Beach.

From left to right, top to bottom: Jane Page, Kyung Hyun Kim, Miriam Mendoza, Gavin Cameron-Webb, Nicholas Adams, Tess Lina, Nico S. Morales, Richard Jin, Anais Legras, Crystal Kim, Ariella Kvashny, Lexie Morita, Abel Garcia, and Shane Yoon.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


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