Christopher Chen

Christopher Chen challenges our relationship to truth and accuracy, spectatorship and performance, repeatedly disrupting our expectations of drama and form.

San Francisco-born playwright Christopher Chen is the author of more than a dozen formally innovative and politically provocative plays, including, most recently, The Headlands (2020) and Passage (2019). The Headlands, a neo-noir set in the Bay Area, engages vast themes—class and race, death and desire—with a structure that might best be described as musical. Images and scenes repeat once, twice, even three times. Each recurrence, like a succession of notes, expands our sense not just of Chen’s characters and plot but of the possibilities of theater itself. In Passage, inspired by E. M. Forster’s 1924 novel A Passage to India, Chen interrogates contemporary intercultural exchanges and socio-political systems to dark and comic effect, elegantly generating a meta-investigation into performance and spectatorship. Chen’s work continuously implicates audiences in questions about art, history, identity, and experience; as a character in Caught (2016) contends, “People immerse themselves in other cultures because they are searching for something within themselves, taking parts of the culture that fill a need, leaving the rest behind.” Chen’s hallmark as a playwright is his refusal to let us leave anything behind. The recipient of a United States Artists USA Fellowship (2021), a Steinberg Playwright Award (2020), and an Obie Award for Playwriting (2017), among many other honors, Chen holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in playwriting from San Francisco State University. He lives in California.

I was speechless when I first found out. And then I felt a mixture of both deep humility and validation, and an overwhelmingly joyful urge to get back to my writing. CHRISTOPHER CHEN