Emil Cohen

Devin Kawaoka

Devin Kawaoka is currently starring as Dustin in Broadway’s hit Slave Play by Jeromy O. Harris, which has transferred to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Devin's character brings an LGBTQ perspective to the show, which is the most Tony Award®-nominated play in history.

Devin grew up in Rochester, New York, a keen downhill ski racer with dreams of competing in the Olympics. He attended New York University as an undergraduate and then in the Graduate Acting Program on a full merit scholarship. Soon after graduating, Devin won the Rosemarie Tichler Award for his performance in Unnatural Acts at the Classic Stage Company. Since then he has appeared on multiple television shows including Lucifier, Marvel’s The Runaways, and Criminal Minds. We caught up with Devin to grab his thoughts about his role in Slave Play.

'Slave Play' Coming Soon | Mark Taper Forum youtu.be

Have you noticed any difference in the types of audiences and their reactions in LA vs. NYC?

Devin: It's hard to generalize, but in Los Angeles we are so much closer to the audience as we are working on a thrust stage as opposed to a proscenium. The audience is a literal character in the Los Angeles production. We address them directly whereas on Broadway the audience was behind the fourth wall. So because of that, I think the audience feels much more implicated. They feel more challenged by the material and tend to feel more freedom to be vocal because of that implication, even sometimes talking amongst themselves as the play unfolds.

Going back to when you first read the play: What was your initial gut response?
Devin: I wanted to tell this story. To be a part of this moment in theatre history. I knew what Jeremy had written was important. Is important. We as a country need to grapple and wrestle with the ideas in this play, with our inability to directly and aggressively address the intersection of sex and race. It is not meant to please—although there are some pretty good jokes in it. It is meant to incite and ignite. Incite feelings and ideas, and hopefully ignite change.

What is your most favorite scene; and your most difficult scene?

Devin: I don't think I have a favorite! The material is so rife with complex psychological, emotional, political, racial etc. conflict that getting to say these words out loud every night is a real blessing for any actor. The end of Dustin's journey is when he is the most revealing, as his partner reads him for being unable to see anything outside of himself. And despite any erasure he may be experiencing as a white-passing Asian man, the repercussions for his relationship in his myopia to not see beyond his own experience are devastating. Having to go through this explosive racial reckoning and ultimate breaking of his decade long relationship is difficult to say the least. And to live it every night takes its toll.

Out actor Devin Kawaoka is starring in Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris outvoices.us

During the pandemic we have seen a horrific spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Have you experienced this in any form? And how does the play get to the root cause of this racism — including inter-racial racism.

Devin: My experience is one of fear and sadness. When I have watched these horrific videos, I can't help but imagine my father, aunt, grandmother, etc. being beaten unexpectedly as they walk down the street to get their weekly groceries. How do we live in a world where we can look at another human and see our hatred but not their humanity? How do we see our disgust, but not their grandchildren, their hobbies, their kind acts, their life and community that is just like ours? In the production, I'm aware of the impact of my Asian body on stage. Would it be seen as sexy? Would it fit the mold? Especially in a gay community that not so long ago blatantly posted "No Femmes, No Asians" on the hook up apps. I decided that that would be my act of defiance and solidarity in the face of all this hate. Asian-ness, feminine and masculine, that would be unapologetically displayed for the world to consider, to see, to be desired and or despised.

Get your tickets to Slave Play here.

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