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“Man of God” questions the male gaze

On Stage is working to spark conversation about the Theater’s Mu’s upcoming production of “Man of God,” both in the theater and on college campuses.
Photo courtesy of Rich Ryan.

After two years of empty seats and barren stages, Theater Mu’s first in-person production since the COVID-19 shutdown,“Man of God,” is creating space for conversation about sexual harassment both onstage and in college classrooms.

The Twin Cities-based theater company will host the upcoming show at Mixed Blood Theater on Feb. 16 through March 6. On Stage, a non-profit theater outreach program, is working to invite community dialogue around themes portrayed in its upcoming show.

Deemed a “funny feminist thriller,” “Man of God” focuses on four 15- and 16-year-old Korean-American girls traveling to Bangkok on a mission trip with their pastor as part of a Korean Christian girls group. On the trip, the girls discover that their pastor has hidden a camera in their hotel bathroom and, driven by a sense of communal rage, the show encapsulates each girl’s own darkly humorous revenge fantasy.

“I think it’s really common to feel as a woman in this society, how unnerving it can be to be pushed into this idea of what the male gaze is and then how it just doesn’t go away,” Janet Scanlon, the actor playing Kyung-Hwa, said. “This show is really a statement about the male gaze in a very, very modern and contemporary view on what it means to be a young woman.”

Scanlon, a University of Minnesota alum, explained that after graduating in 2020 with a degree in human physiology, the pandemic led her to consider new possibilities, including auditioning for her first professional acting role.

“During my first initial reading of the script, I was certainly pulled to Kyung-Hwa, my character,” Scanlon said. “All of the girls have so many layers and they’re so complex, and they all have their own convictions, which I think really drives the show.”

Scanlon explained that the show raises questions about the way society deals with and looks at sexual harassment, and shines a new light on the voices of survivors.

Lucas Erickson, the creator of On Stage and a University alum, said those topics led him to choose Theater Mu’s upcoming production.

“I think it’s important to kind of create these ripple effects of critical literacy, not taking things at face value and asking questions,” Erickson said. “That’s what a lot of the plays we work with do and that’s why the conversation is so important.”

On Stage works with small, local theater production companies to give college students the opportunity to see a play and have an open discussion about the production. Erickson explained through the surveys he’s conducted since the beginning of the program in 2006, nearly a fourth of the students he works with have never seen a play before. On Stage hopes to bridge the gap that exists between college campuses and theater institutions by offering discounted tickets of their partnered shows to their students.

“The classes try to relate as much as possible to the current times and pressing issues that are happening in our lives,” Erickson said. “The main things that we’re going to focus on in our discussions about ‘Man of God’ are going to be things of power and trust.”

On Stage’s next conversation will be taking place in a University Introduction to Creative Writing class on Feb. 22, and will be visiting several other college campuses around the Twin Cities in the near future.

“I really hope that the younger audiences will be able to come and really process what they’re feeling,” Katie Bradley, the director of “Man of God,” said. “These young girls who are going through something that for many of them, it’s turning them into adults. There is an important conversation in that.”

Quoting the production’s playwright, Bradley said that the show encompasses the idea that “you don’t need to be a girl with a gun.” She explained that sexual harassment survivors are often portrayed in a public way in the media, but this story follows the path of four young girls finding that surviving is enough.

“Come prepared to laugh and cry,” Bradley said. “It’s like a bullet train, it goes from zero to sixty in seconds and it just keeps going. It’s just this wonderful, in real-time look at how these girls process an adult situation.”

Correction: A previous version misstated the relationship between On Stage and Theater Mu. On Stage is an independent theater outreach program. 

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