Theater Mu Produces The World Premiere Of Hells Canyon This Spring
By Lianna McLernon
Former Mu Tang Clan playwright Keiko Green combines fictional and historical horror in this five-person ensemble play.
During Theater Mu’s 2023/2024 season, the company is exploring different facets of the Asian American experience across memoir, musicals, family-friendly plays, and – with the world premiere of Keiko Green’s Hells Canyon – horror. From February 24th-March 17th at the Jungle Theater, audiences will travel with five friends to a cabin in the woods in Hells Canyon, OR. It’s a mix of exes, family members, surrogate parents, and bandmates, so there’s bound to be some tension. However, as the depth of new and old betrayals come to the surface, a mysterious force outside the cabin threatens to consume them all.
“We love Green’s work and have been wanting to produce one of her plays for some time now,” says Mu artistic director Lily Tung Crystal. “We were drawn to Hells Canyon because it’s a gripping and thrilling horror play but with racialized themes. It takes a tragic moment in Chinese American history and grapples with cultural appropriation, white privilege, and generational trauma and retribution. And it’s not afraid to engage with the fullness and rawness of being human, literally from birth to death.”
While the characters gloss over it in the beginning of the play, Hells Canyon is the site of a real-life massacre. In 1887, an estimated 34 Chinese gold miners were ambushed, murdered, and dumped into the Snake River by seven white horse-gang members. As the deceased began appearing on shore, an article published in the Lebanon Express that year called the incident a “severe warning to Chinese miners.” It concluded, “More than likely it was the whites who look with an evil eye upon Chinese intrusion in American mines. The American miner kicks hard at the Chinese miner.”
Green had learned about Hells Canyon where she was researching Japanese American internment and Asian American history as a teaching artist. When she had the chance to visit Hells Canyon later on, she was struck by how many people were unaware that the very ground they casually drank beer and played on held such a tragedy.
“It reminded me how rarely we consider the history of the very land we stand on,” Green says. “I wanted to write a play that acknowledges this history, yet also takes a more nuanced complicated view. Hells Canyon has no clear good guys and bad guys, as it also explores the rage that can consume people of color after centuries of inherited trauma, as well as decades of microaggressions from well-meaning people.”
Mu first worked with Green when she was one of the inaugural playwrights of the Mu Tang Clan, a playwright incubator designed by Mu’s Mellon playwright-in-residence, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay. Also in 2022, she virtually workshopped Exotic Deadly as part of Mu’s New Eyes Festival. Now, for the first time, she’ll be traveling to Minnesota to attend Hells Canyon rehearsals, Opening Night on February 24th, and a post-show playwright conversation on February 25th.
Hells Canyon is directed by Katie Bradley, who made her mainstage directorial debut with Mu’s Man of God (2022), and the cast consists of Kaitlyn Cheng, Ryan Colbert, Becca Hart, Matt Lytle, and Gregory Yang (The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity, 2017; The Last Firefly, 2019). Understudies include Ben Bailey, Elizabeth Efteland, Ashley Horiuchi, and Josh Kwon.