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Q&A: ‘Man of God’ playwright discusses central themes of voyeurism, disillusionment

Albert Park (left) and Shirley Chen (right) play Pastor and Samantha in “Man of God” at Geffen Playhouse. (Courtesy of Jeff Lorch)

By Jordan Mula

May 17, 2022 6:54 p.m.

Anna Ouyang Moench is blending light and dark in her new play.

Opening Friday at the Geffen Playhouse, “Man of God” follows four members of a Korean Christian girls’ youth group after they discover their pastor has hidden a camera in their hotel bathroom during a mission trip to Bangkok. Directed by Maggie Burrows, the production is a comedic feminist thriller centered around their unfiltered discussion of the male gaze and the disillusionment that prompts fantasies of violent revenge.

Playwright Moench spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Jordan Mula about the underlying meaning behind the production’s plot development and the eminent themes present.

[Related: Theater review: ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ leaves audience captivated by twisted marriage]

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Daily Bruin: Where did this play originate from?

Anna Ouyang Moench: I heard about this real-life event where this Korean Christian Youth Group had gone on a mission trip to Cambodia and discovered a camera that their youth group leader had placed in their hotel room. I found that, for whatever reason, there were so many things about that (event) that captured the experience of the male gaze in a very literal way – it was the perfect metaphor to have this hidden camera, to have this group of young women in this hotel room and this moment of their discovery of this object and then deciding what to do until they face the person who put it there.

This play is not based on that group, though it was definitely a source of inspiration. I took that basic concept, though I was more interested in exploring teenage characters instead of college-aged (ones) to place the story around this moment of realization. I certainly remember a moment in my childhood where I realized the way I saw myself and the way men see me is very different. I was interested in having these characters be in various places in their own awareness of that gaze when placed in that situation of figuring out what to do.

DB: Each of the characters experiences a climax in which they surrender to thoughts of revenge. How did you go about deciding this?

AOM: I was thinking a lot about the ways that we are fed these ideas, also through stories and media, about how to act if something like this were to happen to you. The models we are given tend to be male-revenge fantasies. There’s a level of which the revenge fantasy is an extremely masculine one. On further reflection, I realize it’s unfair to victims of sexual abuse, especially those who are minors or young, because it’s not reasonable to expect they can attack their attackers – it’s simply not reasonable.

In a way, when all these girls have their reckoning with the justice of what’s happened, all four of them enter into this revenge-fantasy world tailored to their own personality and their own character. I wrote each of those in a specific film genre that focuses around narratives of revenge. Those are the turning points that cause each of those girls to make a decision of what they’re going to do in response to the attacker.

[Related: Theater review: ‘Power of Sail’ at Geffen Playhouse deftly conveys harmful effects of ignorance]

DB: Why did you choose to add bits of humor into such a dark subject matter?

AOM: When I’m writing, I feel like having a balance between light and dark is really important to be able to explore the things that are really dark. To me, having this release and this levity and the ability to be able to laugh at elements also allows you to feel the hard things more deeply — it’s more of a dynamic experience for the audience.

I love stories, movies and plays. I love what different genres can evoke and can bring emotionally. I loved the idea of all these kids having their own moment to shine and their own genre that they really love. Throughout the play, there is a set-thriller aspect of this external proof and these questions of ‘What is this thing? Who put it there? What are we going to do about it?’ Once they figure out who did it, figuring out what they’re going to do (is important). I think that naturally lends itself to those thriller beats and that tone.

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