When Their Eyes Saw Rain, They Took Action

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Oscar T. Basulto, Marc Pelina, West Liang, Pamela Guest and Kavin Panmeechao in "Their Eyes Saw Rain"

In a few days, Company of Angels (CoA) will open the premiere of my play, Their Eyes Saw Rain, a drama that revolves around three orphaned brothers in the small, crumbling town of Castle.

I am completely nervous, a little worried, yet hopeful. It must be this way always, I guess, when faced with the prospect of one’s work about to see the lights. Although I’ve previously experienced some of these feelings of anticipation and doubt and excitement, they don’t find a comfortable seat in my body. In my knotted gut, butterflies flit, as if trapped. There’s an unsettling chorus of anxiety. Mostly, I am grateful.

West Liang

In 2004, I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco.  Although I had expected instinctively that years of training and aspiration as a professional actor might lead to many more years of waiting and floundering between jobs, I began to realize just how real and frustrating the challenges were. Finding great opportunities on stage and screen would not be a sport for the fainthearted and faithless.

Even worse, when I pondered and examined the trends more closely, it became glaringly clear that my path as an American actor of Asian descent was less traveled. The road ahead promised to be harsh, barren of fruit, because I often found that playwrights and directors and producers and casting directors just weren’t looking for Asian American actors. And unless I was willing to settle for the mediocrity of being viewed solely, simply, and necessarily — without merit — as “that Asian guy for that Asian role,” I had to be proactive about my circumstances.

That’s when I started writing. For me, this was a more creative and gratifying way to find my light on stage, to create and originate roles I wanted to explore, to do the work, instead of just waiting for it.

Samantha Klein and Kavin Panmeechao

Along the way, I found a kindred spirit in Justin Huen, an actor with whom I worked when I first arrived in Los Angeles, when he directed me in a play. While Justin, too, waited for those opportunities to knock, he focused his frustrations and creative energy on directing and designing. In each other’s work, we recognized that fire in ourselves and found elements in it that inspired us and forced us to dig deeper. Yet we also knew exactly how we could help the other.

Today, nearly 10 years later, Justin and I have collaborated on almost a dozen projects in various ways for stage and screen, including several produced plays, a handful of short and feature films. It’s what we do when we’re both waiting for that call (and, damn it, when that call never comes, we just end up calling each other).  Justin directs Their Eyes Saw Rain, our latest attempt at finding some light.

Samantha Klein and James Thomas Gilbert

This is a play about survival, about broken, desperate people isolated by their particular circumstances, living in Castle, a place near the edge of obsolescence. And while this town I created is fictitious, and choked with indolence during an incessant rainstorm, in many ways, I am grateful that Castle has also become a very bright and thoroughly impassioned playground for all of us — for me, Justin, CoA, our amazing cast, and our crew of talented designers. Like so many other gifted and under-represented artists in Los Angeles, we’re only trying to create a little place of our own, a make-believe world, per chance to dream and play, to do the work, instead of just waiting for it.

So if you have a chance, please come see what we all do when we’re waiting for that call. We found a Castle of our own.

Their Eyes Saw Rain, Company of Angels at the Alexandria, 501 S. Spring Street, 3rd Floor, LA 90013. Opens November 10. Through December 16. Fri-Sat 8 pm; Sun 7 pm. (No performances Thanksgiving weekend). Tickets: $20. www.companyofangels.org. 213-489-3703.

***All Their Eyes Saw Rain production photos by Company of Angels

West Liang is a professional actor and writer, originally from the San Francisco Bay area. He studied at American Conservatory Theater, Stella Adler Academy, and holds a degree in English Literature. A proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and the award-winning company Rogue Machine Theatre, West has appeared with theater companies all over Southern California, including Celebration Theatre, East West Players, Rogue Machine, Circle X, Falcon, Odyssey, Son of Semele, and Shakespeare Orange County. Partial TV/Film: Jon Benjamin Has a Van (Comedy Central), Hollywood Heights (Nickelodeon), Nash Bridges (CBS), The Bold & the Beautiful (CBS), Crossing Over (Weinstein Co.), Love, Gloria (RMS), Turnaround Jake (La Mission Films), Someone I Used to Know (408 Films), and Invincible Scripture (GDM Films).

West Liang

West Liang