Tony award-winning actor BD Wong has returned home to San Francisco and he’s happy to be back. A recurring character on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Wong is returning to the stage at San Francisco’s own American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) for The Orphan of Zhao, an adaptation of a Chinese legend from the 4th century about a country doctor switching an orphaned baby marked for death with his own son. The last time Wong was on stage was in 2005 and “Orphan” is his first play at the A.C.T.
In the interview Friday, Wong discussed returning home to the Bay Area and adapting his own life experiences — being a gay man with children, losing one of his twin boys 90 minutes after he was born — to his new role.
On returning to the stage at ACT:
“It’s everything I kind of dreamed it would be. I grew up going to the Geary stage and seeing plays at the A.C.T…. I went to Lincoln High School in the city and I was an aspiring actor even as early as high school. Being invited by Carey Perloff, the artistic director of A.C.T. and also the director of this play, to the Geary stage is very meaningful to me and it’s very meaningful to my family. My mother is going crazy.”
What drew him to the role:
“It’s a wonderful play. It’s based on a 3rd or 4th century Chinese story that has lasted the change of time. It’s very popular in Chinese literature and Chinese theater, and for good reason: it’s extremely juicy. It’s full of intrigue and revenge and political machinations, and at the heart of it is this man’s dilemma of what to do because this one child represents an entire clan that has been massacred.
The play hinges upon the idea of revenge and that child needs to get his revenge upon his clan’s enemies. The way that he is able to survive is that this doctor, an ordinary guy who is thrust into the middle of this situation, ends up substituting his own child for that child because that child has been marked to be killed. So then his child gets killed and he lives a lifetime of suppressing his feelings about what that means to him, and also being a real agent in the actual revenge taking place as a result.”
Later, Wong added:
“The thing that makes the play extremely wonderful for the audience is asking oneself the question: What would you do?” In this particular situation, which is charged politically and it’s not the same – it’s a different time period. But if you can imagine that there is such a corrupt government that people are being massacred (of course, this is still happening today in lots of different places all over the world) and how you as an ordinary person have an opportunity to do something to change that situation, would you take it? Would you take the hit for this greater good? It’s a huge question, and we’re asking it every day on Facebook and in our social media lives, about things like animal cruelty – what are you going to do as an individual for gun control or all of these things. We bemoan so many things and yet we’re very rarely given an opportunity as ordinary people to be guaranteed that you can make a real change. If we could do that, if we had that magic pill that we could take, would we take it?”
The Orphan of Zhao runs from June 4-29 at the American Conservatory Theater. For tickets and more information, visit: act-sf.org.
Watch BD Wong being interviewed by KQED’s Scott Shafer on the June 13,2014 edition of Newsroom: