Carla Ching tells “nuanced” story about revenge porn in play


Early in Carla Ching’s new play “Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body,” protagonist Kat Chan is rocked by a betrayal by someone she loves when her ex-husband releases intimate photos of her online.

Ching, the playwright behind “Nomad Motel” who’s also written for TV shows like “Fear the Walking Dead,” paints a visceral portrait of betrayal and the relationships we have with our bodies in her latest work, which was originally commissioned for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference in 2021. Ching says that she wrote the production with Ammunition Theatre Company “partially because I am an Asian American woman in my 40s and I don’t feel like there are a lot of stories out there about us, certainly not about how we deal with relationships or sex or our bodies and sexuality. We’re just sort of forgotten about after we’re in our 20s when we’re young and beautiful.”

By reserving the story for Asian artists to tell, “Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body,” which opened this past weekend, shows that there is room for diverse talent to take up space in a story like Ching’s.

In “Revenge Porn,” leading character Kat Chan has to decide how she’ll respond to her ex-husband releasing nude photographs of her from when they were together. She battles between taking the high road and seeking revenge in her own public way.

Ching was inspired to write the play after reading about Emma Holten’s Consent project. When Holten’s Facebook and email accounts were hacked in 2011, private nude photos she saved on her accounts were shared online. She responded in 2015 by creating a photo series with photographer Cecilie Bødker Jensen that showed her nude and doing everyday tasks. Holten wrote in an article for “Hysterical Feminisms” that she did the project to make herself “a sexual subject instead of an object.”

A woman sits on a couch onstage

Playwright Carla Ching sitting on set of her new play “Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body.”

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Ching wanted to pay homage to Holten’s story with her new play but altered it after wondering what would happen if the woman was an Asian American woman in her 40s with “a career, family and a lot to lose.”

While the play centers Asian characters, their identity isn’t the crux of the narrative. Instead, it centers on their experiences of grappling with revenge porn. The complexity of the characters is what drew director and Ammo literary manager Bernardo Cubría to the play.

“The play is about very human, very real, nuanced, complicated issues that reminded me of my family — of my mom, my wife, of me,” he says. “I saw myself in it. It felt so universal and beautiful.”

For Cubría, “Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body” emboldens its cast to take on roles that they are typically restricted from.

“The first slot we are allowed to take up are plays about our historical pain and trauma, which are very important and beautiful, necessary plays,” he says, “but now a lot of us are longing to be allowed to exist in spaces where we get to be fathers and mothers, not the funny Asian friend or the dark, evil Latino character.”

Ching felt similarly, and often underwhelmed by the roles available for Asian actors. In her experience, Asian roles were often reserved for actors when the character is “commodified in some way or our ethnicity is fetishized.”

“I wanted to have complex, nuanced, amazing characters on stage and write these roles for a lot of Asian American actors, but identity and being Asian American isn’t necessarily the point,” she says. “They’re not wrestling with their identity as being Asian Americans. They are Asian American people going about their lives, and crazy stuff happens to them.”

Ching says that it’s been “thrilling and relieving” to write the play and allow the actors to bring it to life. She’s even sensed the feeling within the cast.

A woman poses before a tree for a photograph.

“I wanted to have complex, nuanced, amazing characters on stage and write these roles for a lot of Asian American actors, but identity and being Asian American isn’t necessarily the point,” playwright Carla Ching says of her new play.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Tina Huang, who plays the leading character Kat Chan, pointed out how a majority of the people on and off stage for the production identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. After experiencing her own setbacks while being typecast because of her race, she says she felt seen for her complexities by being able to play Chan.

“We don’t have a lot of stories that have these deep portrayals of these three-dimensional Americans who happened to also be Asian, and also deal with their place in this puzzle,” Huang says. “There should be space for artists that identify as me — as a person of color, a woman of color, an Asian American woman — where we don’t have to apologize to take the space.”

While identity might change or alter how the show is seen, it shows the industry that people of color have complex emotions when confronting a gnarled situation of betrayal. While Ching typically writes stories featuring Asian characters, their race is simply an additional trait that is separate from the central theme of her work, including past plays like “Fast Company” and “The Two Kids That Blow S— Up”: Why do we hurt the people we love?

What ultimately drives Ching to write plays like “Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body” is to give people of color the opportunity to work on theater that they are typically not allowed to do with predominantly white institutions — storytelling that reflects a reality seldom shown onstage.

“We’re all thrilled to be in community together, creating characters that look like us and feel like us, or like people that we know,” Ching says.

‘Revenge Porn or The Story of a Body’

Where: Ammunition Theatre Company, The Pico, 10508 West Pico Boulevard, L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 9.

Tickets: $35 general admission

Information: ammunitiontheatre.com/



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