As part of their annual Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) Reading Series Festival, the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Department of Theater and Dance hosted a series of play readings from Jan. 7 to Jan. 8. Working in correspondence with LAUNCH PAD, AMPLIFY, and the New and Reimagined Work Initiative, this event was made to celebrate the voices of marginalized communities in theater. I was able to watch the first play reading, “Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams,” written by Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters and directed by student Julia Cho. Through student voices, Walters delivers a transformative piece that tackles the hardships of identity, family, and home life.
“Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams” starts off on a rather somber tone with the main character Celina becoming aware that her sister Minhee had just been murdered. This event is the driving force of the play, as Celina and her mom are still coming to terms with the death of Minhee and never talk about the emotional turmoil that it has brought both of them. Trying to return to her normal self, Celina renovates a local salon after moving from Los Angeles and reconnects with a childhood friend, Inky. However, as the play progresses, the audience comes to learn that every person in Koreatown has their own “ghosts,” something that follows and haunts them wherever they may go.
“Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams” was a captivating watch, even through the awkwardness of a Zoom performance. Walters brilliantly showcases the unfortunate reality in many relationships where addiction plays a role. So often I have seen productions that have portrayed addicts as older individuals that refuse any help. Yet, seeing the lack of support for Inky’s father and his neighbors as they go through their addictions made this play truly heartbreaking.
However, several of the play’s plot elements are more confusing than necessary. “Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams” incorporates ghosts within its script to comment on Celina’s haunting memories of her sister’s murder. While applaudable in its attempt to discuss deep topics, viewers get the sense that the play rushes through these topics rather than properly tackling them. The mention of Minhee’s domestic abuse is brought up once and then never mentioned again throughout the play, a choice that feels a little unfulfilling. Additionally, although the addition of the ghost theme was interesting, I had trouble recognizing whether the interactions between Celina and Minhee’s ghost were flashbacks or happening in real-time. While this folklore element was an interesting choice, it felt too excessive and over-the-top for viewers to fully grasp by the end of the play.
“Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams” showcases why having BIPOC representation is critical in literature. Hearing more about the Korean-American identity, language, and cuisine in this play made me want to learn more about the culture. Walters’ characters deviate from the flat, stereotyped images of how Asian people have traditionally been represented in media and are beautifully complex; they are well-intentioned despite the people they hurt.
Celina’s journey was my favorite moment to watch in the play. As Celina and her mother come to understand that they must let go of any past turmoil, they forge a new road ahead towards a stronger relationship. Watching Celina go through the emotional rollercoaster of grief was something that I have rarely seen before. Walters reminds the audience that loss comes with challenges for everyone and that grief is not an instantaneous process — something we can all take away during this time.
Though the play might have suffered from a few clunky Zoom transitions to introduce a new character or scene, the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance did an incredible job at pivoting to an online production that made me fully immersed in the plot and the students’ talents. “Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams” is a poignant piece of work that will surely move you in ways you had not imagined.