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Meet the minds behind She Devil of the China Seas, Seattle's upcoming pulp piracy play

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The cast of She Devil of the China Seas: Anna Saephan, Kristine Ota, Van Lang Pham, and Aaron Jin, in front of Eloisa Cardona — Photo courtesy of Pork Filled Productions
The cast of She Devil of the China Seas: Anna Saephan, Kristine Ota, Van Lang Pham, and Aaron Jin, in front of Eloisa Cardona — Photo courtesy of Pork Filled Productions

From August 9 to 27, the Theater Off Jackson will take audiences on a pulp fantasy pirating adventure in She Devil of the China Seas, a two-act play by Pork Filled Productions, written and produced by Roger Tang and directed by Kiefer Harrington.

Based on the story of a historical pirate queen, it will follow Zhang Tse (Kristine Ota) as she claws her way out of poverty and hunts down the sorceress Moh Tse (Eloisa Cardona) to become one of the most fearsome pirate lords of the 19th century, with a fleet rivaling the European and imperial Chinese navies.

"Basically, it's a kickass story," Tang said over Zoom about why he chose to adapt it. Zhang Tse had never been prominently featured in the West (barring cameos in Doctor Who and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), so Tang filled the gap himself, armed with over four decades of experience and his love for Marvel comics.

"Any resemblance to Marvel's Red Sonja is purely intentional," Tang said. He also listed Conan as a big influence.

As for Harrington, he has 15 years of experience in theater, but She Devil is a big step from his previous directing roles. He co-directed two other plays in Seattle, and more elsewhere, but this project will be his first one as a solo director, and his first time directing such a huge cast (14 people and 17 characters).

Like many theater nerds, Harrington traces his roots back to high school productions. "I did the acting thing and thoroughly enjoyed it... And I knew that I wanted to do theater in some way, shape, or form," he said over Zoom.

Back then, most of the Asian Americans he'd known who'd gone to Broadway as actors were "born and bred" into the scene, some having started acting classes as early as three years old. "If I want to stick out, especially as someone who's not white," Harrington said, speaking of that time, "I have to work twice as hard for half the recognition."

Harrington then discovered the "business side" of showbiz while working at a box office, and after a mentor tipped him off about Ithaca College's programs, he went on to graduate there with a BS in theater arts management.

Tang and Harrington have been working with a majority Asian American cast, as part of what Tang described as a "grassroots" tradition that treats theater as a means of political organization. She Devil will serve to add more Asian American representation to the stage, and to show audiences a story that has remained obscure in the West.

But the play has also educated the cast, who have been enthusiastic about the production. "It's an absolute joy to see everyone work," Harrington said. "When I'm not actively working with them on the stage in a rehearsal space, they're all running their lines, they're all reviewing their notes. They are all bringing their A-game."

Photo courtesy of Pork Filled Productions  

And in addition to representation and a "kickass story," "it's tremendously fun to work with such a larger-than-life character," Tang said. "All the larger-than-life characters you've got — the Indiana Joneses, the Captain Kirks, even in Star Wars — all of them tend to be either white or male. To have one that's Asian and a woman, it's kind of fun."

With their enthusiasm, the cast has overcome tough challenges, like intensive classes on stage combat by the Society of American Fight Directors. "There are very few Asian American actors who have that [training]," Tang said. "And now we have a double handful of people who've been trained that way, who can be used for that sort of thing, either with Pork Filled or for other shows."

While the story itself isn't explicitly Queer, Harrington said there is certainly Queer representation in the cast and crew, and Tang promised some Queer elements in his planned sequels, assuming this one is successful.

"What's really cool and really inspiring about telling this story," Harrington said, "is that it's a story that comes from our diaspora, [one] we can take ownership of, and be able to ask ourselves and each other, 'OK, how do we want to tell one of our stories, in our community?'

"There's something really rewarding about that."

You can find out more about She Devil of the China Seas at https://porkfilled.com/wp/she-devil-page. Standard tickets are $25, with VIP reserved seating and a free drink for $50. Accessibility tickets are $10. Any comic book writer in the area who worked on either Red Sonja or Conan is invited to attend for free.