A small, state college in northern Pennsylvania has canceled a musical about a week before it was scheduled to open after the playwright objected to the use of white actors for South Asian characters.
Clarion University had spent much of the year preparing to stage the punk rock version of “Jesus in India,” by dramatist Lloyd Suh, which ran off-Broadway in 2013 and received favorable reviews.
Suh, who owns the rights to the musical, sent an e-mail on Monday to the school’s play director Marilouise Michel ordering her to either replace the non-Asian actors with “ethnically appropriate actors” or cancel the production, which was due to open Nov. 18.
“I have severe objections to your use of Caucasian actors in roles clearly written for South Asian actors, and consider this an absolutely unacceptable distortion of the play,” Suh wrote in the e-mail provided to Reuters by Michel.
Michel told Reuters on Thursday that one of the Indian roles was to be played by a biracial girl, and the rest by whites. They were not doing the roles in “brownface” or using dialects, she said, but Suh rejected any solution other than removing them.
Suh, who has another play, “Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery,” running off-Broadway this month, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did his agent, Beth Blickers.
Michel said Clarion University, with about 4,900 students, has a student body that is 0.6 percent Asian and that no Asians auditioned for the play.
She tried several times to reach Suh by phone to discuss aspects of his play, but he did not take her calls before it was canceled on Tuesday, she said.
When he saw the cast photos earlier this month, he demanded through Blickers to know the ethnicity of the actors, she said.
“I couldn’t stop myself from crying when I saw the photos and realized what was happening,” Suh wrote in his e-mail.
On Tuesday, the day after Suh’s e-mail, the New York Times published an opinion piece by Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari decrying the treatment of Asian, particularly Indian actors, in the media but also noted that such actors were harder to find.
(Reporting by David DeKok; Editing By Frank McGurty, Curtis Skinner and Ken Wills)