Eth-Noh-Tec’s Nancy Wang appeared in a staged reading of “Shadows & Secrets” at the San Francisco International Arts Festival. (Courtesy photo)

Eth-Noh-Tec’s Nancy Wang previews ‘Shadows & Secrets’

Storyteller searches for truth behind grandfather’s death in SFIAF presentation

By Lloyd Lee

What often follows years of cultural assimilation for Asian-Americans and children of immigrants is a yearning to touch base with their roots; it might mean learning how to cook traditional recipes, picking up the mother tongue or simply talking to their parents with an open mind.

But for Nancy Wang — co-founding director of Eth-Noh-Tec, a nonprofit arts organization, and a fifth-generation Chinese American — the process entails a full-on investigation of a cold-case mystery surrounding her grandfather’s untimely death and dedicating a play to it.

On Sunday at Fort Mason, as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival – an 11-day program with theater, dance, performance art and music by local artists and guests from across the world — Wang, a kinetic storyteller, performed a staged reading of her new work, “Shadows & Secrets.”

In the hour-long presentation, in which she becomes various characters including her mother and grandmother, Wang compiled a dossier of scattered historical facts, newspaper clippings and memories of her late grandfather Chin F. Foin, whose demise in March 1924 was understood to be an accident. (Foin fell to his death, down the shaft of the elevator in a restaurant he owned.)

In revisiting the story, Wang became suspicious about one of Foin’s motives, something contradictory to the experience of many Asian immigrants. Foin, who gradually amassed wealth and success as a restaurateur in Chicago, was preparing his family to leave everything behind and go back to China.

“This doesn’t make sense,” said Wang, 76, a Bay Area resident and New Orleans native. “Why were they leaving in the first place? Why was [my family] leaving and my grandfather was to join them later when he was so successful?”

Further digging revealed more clues: her grandfather purchased a new building, possibly to open up a new restaurant; mounting debt; a large insurance policy; and ties with the Tong — a secret society of Chinese immigrants often tied to criminal activities and later ubiquitous in American Chinatowns.

Wang, unsure what to make of her findings, asked audience members what they think might have happened to her grandfather — murder, suicide, or accident — and for investigative “notes” on the back of the program.

While her investigation is incomplete, Wang is determined to continue, and to present her findings in the form of a more structured, longer play at next year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival.

She also sees the show as opportunity to provide a real portrayal of Chinese-Americans, even if it means presenting the uglier sides.

“It makes us human,” she said in an interview. “We always try and show how wonderful Chinese are, but this one makes us more full.”

IF YOU GO

San Francisco International Arts Festival

Where: Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., S.F.

When: Through June 2

Tickets: $15 to $33 most single shows; $40 to $75 for passes; some free events

Contact: (415) 399-9554, www.sfiaf.org

Theater

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have taken different approaches to transit and infrastructure funding. <ins>(Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)</ins>
Bay Area transit has big hopes for a Biden administration

The best chance for local agencies to get relief may be a change in federal leadership

BART Ambassadors are being called on to assist riders in social situations that don’t require police force. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Unarmed BART ambassadors program formalized with a focus on community service

Public safety and police reform are key elements in campaigns of Board members Dufty and Simon

East Bay hills and Port of Oakland visible from Point San Bruno Park jetty. (Shutterstock)
East Bay agencies urge precautionary evacuations ahead of wind event

At least two East Bay jurisdictions suggested Sunday that residents in the… Continue reading

Nate Durand of Chug Pub created an election-themed cocktail which has several names: Biden Harris, Barris, Hiden, and/or Dem Juice. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Drink blue, no matter who

But bar parties aren’t planned for Election Day

Lee Vining and Inyo National Forest are excellent fall color tour destinations. (Matt Johanson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Gold Rush: Go now to see Sierra fall color

Maples, oaks, dogwoods, aspens glow in the next few weeks

Most Read