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