“Let’s lead the world in a whole new dance, / God knows it’s our only chance. “ – Kathy Change/Kathleen Chang
Chang(e), a docudrama inspired by and based on the life of performance artist/activist Kathy Change (formerly Kathleen Chang), who self-immolated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, has transformed the spare space of the HERE Arts Center into a glittering hipster commune, complete with gold beads, metallic curtains and disco lights. The world created by Soomi Kim and director Suzi Takahashi is so vivid that it stays with you long after the play is over, due in no small part to the efforts of the design team. The video design by Kevan Loney in combination with the lighting design by Lucrecia Briceno illustrates the complexities of Change’s mind – mystical and surreal one moment, stark and disturbing the next. The original compositions by Adam Rogers and the sound design by Iggy Hung are no less significant, and the choreography by Alexandra Beller moves the audience through the delicate dance between Change’s messianic image and her troubled realities. At the center of it all is an awe-inspiring performance by Soomi Kim, who is on stage the entire ninety minutes, pushing a shopping cart, cooking stir-fry, screaming into a loud speaker, and dancing. With the aid of stunning costumes by Machine Dazzle, Kim captures all that was so mythic about the troubled activist.
In this mystical take on Change’s life, the political is often favored over the personal. Her mother’s suicide, her father’s disapproval and her turbulent marriage with playwright Frank Chin are hinted at, but never enacted or explored. Instead, the work focuses on her relationship with the world at large, which Change desperately wanted to transform. The disillusioned crowds that witnessed her performances and protests never quite shared her passion. The play depicts her decision to self-immolate as inevitable, never quite problematizing the motivations behind her actions.
Many have wondered and will continue to wonder, even after this production, what exactly propelled Change towards her last act of resistance. Chang(e) is not an inquiry into those dramatic questions, but an invitation to share what Change’s life represented, a psychedelic journey that transports the audience to an undecipherable place. The storytelling is unconventional, but that’s the note that feels right for Change.