Highland Park actor Sun Mee Chomet will be making up for lost time this month at the Guthrie and Southern theaters in Minneapolis. At the Guthrie, Chomet will appear as Miss Bates in the world premiere of Emma, playwright Kate Hamill’s new adaptation of the novel by Jane Austen, which will open on June 18. At the Southern, she will stage her one-woman show Trauma:Held on June 27. Both productions were postponed when COVID brought the curtain down two years ago.
“Emma was the play I was rehearsing when the pandemic started,” Chomet said. “We began rehearsing on March 11, 2020, while I was in Twelfth Night at the Guthrie. By the 15th, we were shut down. It’s very meaningful, because of the whole team coming together again and what we went through saying goodbye so abruptly.”
Rehearsing for Emma while playing in Twelfth Night speaks to what Chomet described as a transformative power for actors. “It’s great and important to play a variety of characters that are polar opposites,” she said. “In Twelfth Night I got to play this elegant, beautiful woman, and in Emma I play this socially awkward goofball, Miss Bates. Jane Austen fans know Miss Bates as a well-intentioned motor-mouth who doesn’t understand social cues.
“I love plays with a lot of gravitas,” Chomet said, “but the world right now needs some joy. I’ve realized more than ever the significance of comedy and love and laughter in a room full of people.”
Trauma:Held may also have more significance now than two years ago, according to Chomet. “I’ve been interested in exploring how trauma lives in and moves through the female body and specifically the Asian-American female body,” she said. “I studied modern dance for years, and I have a passion for exploring what’s possible with storytelling through the body. I get to dance in Emma, which is fun, but in Trauma:Held it will be storytelling without words. I’m going to be exploring through movement things that have personally affected me, things that have been difficult for me to navigate and how I have processed them.
“With the shootings of Asian women at the spa in Atlanta in 2021, I felt like I saw myself killed. I felt physically ill. I had trouble getting out of bed. If anything, that taught me how the people affected by the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, might be feeling right now.”
“As much as we hold compassion and empathy in our bodies as human beings and especially as actors, it’s not until we see ourselves in a situation that we feel the stress and pain,” Chomet said. “With the shootings of Asian women at the spa in Atlanta in 2021, I felt like I saw myself killed. I felt physically ill. I had trouble getting out of bed. If anything, that taught me how the people affected by the mass shooting in Buffalo and the people in Uvalde, Texas, might be feeling right now. I hope Trauma:Held helps with healing.
“When I was in graduate school at New York University, it was supposed to be the greatest time in my life,” Chomet said. “But I was there for 9/11. I saw the first plane go in. That’s in my body.”
Finding her voice as an actor.
Chomet grew up in Michigan and California. She first made her way to the Twin Cities to attend graduate school at the University of Minnesota. When her program began to disband in the early 1990s, she transferred to NYU. “While I was here, though, I worked with Theatre Mu and found my voice as an artist and as an Asian-American actor,” she said.
After graduating from NYU, Chomet stayed in New York long enough to know it was not where she wanted to live long-term. “The Twin Cities is a place that celebrates theater artists,” she said. “In New York, I felt like I was always trying to make people remember who I was. In Minnesota, as soon as I moved back, people were calling and asking if I wanted to work with them.
‘A home that’s chosen me.’
“Actually, I moved back to quit acting. I was working temp jobs and in development at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Then one day I got a phone call from the Guthrie. They said, ‘We hear you’re back in town. Come work with us.’
“Since then, I’ve worked on almost every stage in the Twin Cities,” Chomet said. “Here you can feel valued doing edgy and challenging work and also fun work that brings joy to the community. I never thought I’d live here as long as I have. It’s a home that’s chosen me.”
Chomet will begin rehearsals for another Guthrie play after Emma closes. “I was just cast in a new show for the Guthrie’s 2022-23 season, Sally & Tom,” she said. “It’s a world premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks and is co-produced with the Public Theater in New York. I’ve been wanting to work with Suzan-Lori Parks for over 20 years, and now I get to do one of her plays here.”
Emma will be performed through August 21. For ticket information, call 612-377-2224 or visit guthrietheater.org.
— Anne Murphy
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