Director John Catania on the HK premiere of LGBTI play A Language of Their Own

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Director John Catania speaks to Arthur Tam about the HK premiere of popular LGBTI play A Language of Their Own

The LGBTI community in Hong Kong is at a crossroads. Though there has been major progress ever since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1991, there is still a mountain of issues plaguing the community. Most of us are aware of the ongoing struggle for anti-discrimination legislation, recognition of same-sex marriages and overall equality, but there remains a lack of awareness regarding complex relationships that happen within the community. For example, what is it like to discover that you have HIV and how will that affect the people around you? Should you or shouldn’t you come out to your family? To shed some light on these questions, John Catania and Charles Ignacio have brought the popular play A Language of Their Own, by Singaporean American playwright Chay Yew, to Hong Kong as part of Pink Season’s new series of events. There are four performances taking place between November 19 and 21 at the Fringe Club.

The play is celebrating its 20th anniversary, but even two decades after being shown around the world, it remains as relevant as ever – especially in a city like Hong Kong. The play follows four gay American men (three of which are Asian American) and their diasporic experiences, challenges with assimilation, cross-cultural relationships and living with HIV. The focus of the play is just as much on love as it is with dealing with major LGBTI themes. 

Catania and Ignacio first stumbled on the play during their time as producers on the public affair TV series In the Life, which documents the lives of LGBTI people. Think Humans of New York, but gay. The show ran from 1992 to 2012, receiving three Emmy nominations. When A Language of Their Own debuted in New York, in 1995, Catania covered the story, and the impact of the show still resonates with him. He phoned Yew and asked if the play had ever been shown in Hong Kong and since it hasn’t, Catania and Ignacio felt they should direct and produce the show for Hong Kong audiences. “This is a good play, a strong play, a groundbreaking play,” says Catania. “Around the world, and certainly in the States, there haven’t been very many English-language stories about Asian, Chinese American or Asian American experiences in queer culture.”

Last year Catania and Ignacio were in Hong Kong hosting screenings of their queer television work and audiences responded with questions that they felt the play could possibly give some answers to. “That’s why we think it’s relevant here,” says Catania. “Yew just gets it. He addresses family, religion, HIV, Chinese culture, Chinese culture in a Western culture, queer culture. Hong Kong is where Western and Chinese culture have intersected for decades and there is still a conversation going on, sometimes cordial, sometimes heated, about how to move forward the agenda of gay rights, as well as interracial relationships.” A subject not only applicable to the gay community but also the rest of society. He continues, “One of the main characters is an Asian American with a Chinese immigrant boyfriend and a question is raised if people should be dating outside of their culture.”

Hong Kong has always been a hotchpotch of cultures and identities that has, on the one hand, created colourful diversity within the city, but contention remains between different social groups. At its core, A Language of Their Own tries to reconcile those differences. Whether you’re gay or straight, the play offers insight that we can all learn and benefit from.

A Language of Their Own
Fringe Club, Nov 19-21. Tickets: $180; hkticketing.com.

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