‘A big, huge, self-destructive mistake’

PAD presents Leah Nanako Winkler’s 'Kentucky' Nov. 15-18

From left: Madison Lee as Hiro, Zoe Liu as Sophie, Dwayne McCowan as Da’Ran and Dominic Bottom as James. (All photos: Danny Reise/Washington University)

Grandma: I sent you a hundred dollars but you sent it back. Why?
Hiro: Because. You need the money more than I do.

Lee as Hiro

Hiro is young and successful, making a life in New York, a world away from her old Kentucky home. But when her little sister, Sophie, decides to get married — at age 22, to a born-again Christian she’s only just met — Hiro leaps into action, determined to stop the wedding.

In “Kentucky,” playwright Leah Nanako Winkler brings a shrewd eye and gentle touch to themes of love, identity and cultural division. Washington University’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present the slyly funny, coming-of-age tale Nov. 15-18.

“The family thinks Hiro is coming home to be maid of honor,” said Ron Himes, the Henry E. Hampton, Jr. Artist-in-Residence, who direct the cast of 16. “But Hiro thinks Sophie’s marriage is the worst possible thing in the world, a total disaster.

“For Hiro, this is a rescue mission.”


 Like Hiro, Winkler was born in Japan, raised in Lexington, Ky., and currently lives in New York, where she launched Everywhere Theatre Group in 2008. And though “Kentucky,” was inspired by her own sister’s wedding, Winkler insists the play is not autobiographical.

“It started from a place of reality, but the events that take place aren’t real,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s like a Bizarro-world version of my life.”

Liu as Sophie

The story begins with a warning from Hiro’s therapist, Larry. “You’re about to make a big, huge, self-destructive mistake,” he says of her (anti-)wedding plans. “I’ll write you a prescription.” Touching down in Lexington, Hiro confronts her abusive father, hooks up with former boyfriend Adam and generally attempts to argue the world into submission. But argument only gets you so far, and Hiro quickly learns that the old folks back at home have thoughts and opinions of their own.

“Kentucky is a lot more diverse than we might imagine,” Himes pointed out, “and we see a lot of characters we don’t usually see on stage.” For example, the three leads – Hiro, Sophie and their mom — are Asian-American, and Sophie’s fiancé and pastor are African-American. “There’s even a talking cat,” he added with a laugh.

“Hiro has made herself a New Yorker, but Sophie is very committed to her conversion,” Himes continued. “It’s the choice she made, and the path she feels she was meant to find.

“Ultimately, what we see is a reverence for Kentucky from the people who consider it home.”

McCowan as Da’Ran

Cast and crew

The cast is led by Madison Lee as Hiro and Zoe Liu as Sophie. Alice Nguyen and Dominic Bottom are their parents, Masako and James. Dwayne McCowan plays Da’Ran, Sophie’s fiancé. Donovan Duggins and Jenise Sheppard are Da’Ran’s parents, Ernest and Amy.

Marek Rodriguez is Larry, Hiro’s therapist. Ebby Offord, Sarah Willis and Louis Gordon are Hiro’s high school friends Nicole, Laura and Adam. Grandma is played by Helen Fox. Emma Flannery, Barri Levitt and Brylie Noe are the bridesmaids. Natalie Thurman is Sylvie, the talking cat.

Bottom as James

Sets and costumes are by Chris Cumberbach and Nikki Glaros. Lighting is by Sean Savoie. Justin Wright is assistant director. Stage manager is Isaac Simmons, with assistance from Rickeia Coleman. Dramaturg is Kaia Lyons. Props designer is Emily Frei.


“Kentucky” begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15, 16 and 17; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17 and 18. Performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.

PAD shows are free for Washington University undergraduate, graduate and University College students (enrolled in a degree program). Tickets for spouses, partners and family members of graduate students may be purchased at regular price. The free student tickets are not available online but can be picked up at the Edison Theatre Box Office Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Regular tickets are $20, or $15 for students, children, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff. Tickets are available through the Edison box office.

For more information, call 314-935-6543.

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