Jennifer Cheung in the award winning play, "Chagrin Falls"

November 8, 2016
Stories

Jennifer Cheung plays Patrice in the award winning play, "Chagrin Falls" with The Agency Theater Collective. "Chagrin Falls" is written by Mia McCullough and is directed by Sommer Austin at the Den Theatre  through December 11, 2016. A week prior to a particular execution, an Asian American graduate student comes to town - purportedly to do a story on a man who is scheduled to be executed. As this would-be journalist interviews a cross-section of the population, she finds her subjects revealing far more than their opinions on capital punishment. Meet Jennifer as she shares her and Patrice's story.

‍Robert Koon and Jennifer Cheung as “Riley” and “Patrice"

What's your personal story? I grew up in Pennsylvania and went to Penn State. I have always moved around and have lived in Indonesia, studied abroad in Paris, interned Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, worked with the New York City Ballet and did digital advertising in Texas.

While living in New York I began working on a career in improv starting at the Upright Citizen Brigade. After moving to Chicago, 18 months ago, I studied more improv with Second City and iO and did an apprenticeship with Under the Gun. In addition to the improv, I began working with sketch comedy and immediately enjoyed the concept of a scripted comedy. From the world of scripted comedy, I began a transition from improv and comedy to the theatre. I will always love improv but theatre has given me an opportunity to use all the I learned in a new way. Even though the pieces are written and have a script, there is always an element of "something could happen" and that improv training comes in very handy. With moving into theatre and on-camera work, i studied different acting techniques with different outlets in Chicago including Artistic Home. I have been very fortunate that in my time in Chicago, I have been able to move from improv to theatre very smoothly. 

‍Cody Lucas and Denise Hoeflich as “Thaddeus” and “Irene"

What's your character's story in "Chagrin Falls”? Patrice is a young AmerAsian woman who was adopted into a white family that often moved around when she was young.  She grew up in this conservative christian family and then went to school in Boston. While a college student, she discovered and learned about her personal history as someone born in Vietnam and began to be associate with the social justice movement and new and different views than her adopted family.  While getting her masters in law and justice, Patrice goes to Chagrin Falls to interview and death row inmate. While waiting to interview the inmate she gets sucked into the lives of people who live there and whose two main resources for income and the economy are the prison, where there is a death row, or the local slaughter house. Combining her own background with the lives of the people she is meeting, she discovers a new appreciation for the people who carry out this for this country’s "dirty work.” And  compelled by their stories, she becomes closer to the harsh truths that many American shut out of their minds or would rather not acknowledge at all.

‍Joe Lino and Jennifer Cheung as “Reverend” and “Patrice"

What challenges does your character face telling this story? How does your character overcome those challenges?Her main challenge in Chagrin Falls, the play and the town, is that she is an outsider in a place that is very insular. One of those town’s where everyone knows everyone else’s story and she is someone that no one knows anything about so she experiences plenty of push back from the inhabitants. She has to figure out how to communicate with them in a way that is not threatening to them and at the same time get the story she believes she needs to share with people. When she first arrives, she is not prepared for her own reactions to having to meet the prisoner on death row or the way the people of the town can do their daily jobs whether at the slaughterhouse or the prison. 

‍Merrick Robison and Jennifer Cheung as “Henry” and “Patrice"

She tries to maintain a professional demeanor with them but often this is not easy as Patrice has her own discomfort with Vietnam Vets as she is originally from Vietnam and coming to understand how they can live in a city which survives because of death. At the end of the story, she is able to find resolution with many of her conflicts and once again sees the world differently. She definitely has gone through some changes and continues her own journey of discovery and self-awareness. 

‍Denise Hoeflich and Robert Koon as “Irene” and “Riley”

In addition, here are some photos from Chagrin Falls that you may use in your story with the production’s release.

All photos by Bill Richert

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Mia Park
Mia Park shares her passion of discovery through teaching yoga and acting. Currently studying acupuncture and Chinese medicine, Mia is also a producer, writer, motivator, and celebrator of life. Mia has lived in Chicago for over twenty years and calls this city that works her home.

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Free tickets can be reserved on October 27, 2017 at noon at the box office, by calling 773-325-7900, or emailing theatreboxoffice@depaul.edu. Press Opening is Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 7:30 PM. **Preview is Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 7:30 PM. The House of Bernarda Alba will be performed in Room 403 of The Theatre School at DePaul University at 2350 N Racine Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 What's your personal story? I grew up in Tucson, Arizona as one of very few Chinese Americans in my neighborhood. I remember that my sister and I were the only Chinese kids in my whole elementary school. However, my family attended a Chinese church in downtown Tucson, and I also attended Tucson Chinese School where I learned to read and write Mandarin Chinese. I’m very thankful for the persistence that my parents had to have my sister and me grow up learning Chinese and holding on to our ethnic culture. However, growing up, I felt like I was never fully Chinese nor fully American. I didn’t feel the need to blend in with the other kids, but I also desired to connect better with others. An opportunity came up in kindergarten when the entire grade put on a show for the whole school. This was the first time that I felt like I was part of a team, part of a larger group effort to create something fun and beautiful. I remember that year, our production was called ‘To the Future and Beyond,’ and I sang the final solo of the show. In middle school and high school, I continued to take drama classes whenever possible. I loved learning about the lives of people so different from me, memorizing my lines, and sharing those stories with audiences. In college at Duke University, I decided to major in Psychology and Theater Studies, and also performed in three of the Theater Department’s Mainstage shows. Currently, I’m in my second year of my MFA in Acting program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. What's your character's story in "The House of Bernarda Alba”? My character’s name is Angustias, which means anguish or distress. She is the eldest unmarried daughter of Bernarda Alba and is already 39. Angustias is the sole daughter of Bernarda Alba’s former husband, while the rest of her sisters are the daughters of Antonio Maria Benavides, the man they are all mourning at the top of the show. Angustias’ father was rich, so when Antonio Maria Benavides dies and the property must be divided, Angustias’ share of the estate is much larger than that of her sisters. This wealth that Angustias has is then attractive to Pepe, who is trying to marry her, and while Angustias truly believes that he loves her for her, she really just wants to be loved and free from the oppression and alienation she feels within the walls of Bernarda’s house. What challenges does your character face telling this story? Angustias is constantly struggling with the antagonistic energy she receives from her sisters. No matter what she does, her sisters find some way to make her feel even more alienated and separate from the group. No one really gives her a chance to share more about herself. Angustias is always defending herself, but somehow it always comes off as offensive towards her sisters. She doesn’t feel understood. She wants her mother’s approval, but also doesn’t feel fully understood by her either. Angustias has a hard time in this story, because she doesn’t feel like anyone is on her side. How does the character overcome those challenges? Angustias changes throughout the play—I won’t give away too much, but in some ways, Angustias is redeemed from all of her bitterness at the end of the play when her sisters discover how they have wronged her. While Angustias behaved more out of spite at the top of the show, she begins to genuinely ask for help, advice, and empathy at the end of the play. Angustias overcomes her challenges of alienation towards the end of the play when she risks being judged by her mother and sisters by being more vulnerable, and seeking to find the truth, even if she gets hurt in the end. Any other comments? I hope that this play helps audience members to be thankful for the people in life who love them, to hold them close, and to try to understand each other instead of being blinded by individual desires. Why not work together? Why not be a team and create something beautiful? Life is too short not to make the most of it every day. Thank you so much for your time!
Mia Park
11/13/2017