Actor Keiko Green challenges conventional casting

Keiko Green in "The Comparables." (Photo by Nate Watters, courtesy Seattle Repertory Theatre.)
Keiko Green in “The Comparables.” (Photo by Nate Watters, courtesy Seattle Repertory Theatre.)

Actor and playwright Keiko Green wants to upend traditional casting conventions. The biracial Japanese-American New Yorker — originally from Georgia — has found the Seattle theater community welcoming to her mission.

“Right now there’s an understanding in theaters that unless specified [in a script], a role is default white,” said Green.

She’s been finding success after arriving in Seattle three years ago, and this month makes her Seattle Repertory Theatre debut in “The Comparables.”

Green plays Iris, a brassy upstart and the youngest of a trio of women vying for power at a high-end real estate agency.

Playwright Laura Schellhardt envisioned a diverse cast for the three-woman play. Green costars alongside actors Cheyenne Casebier (Monica) and Linda Gehringer (Bette), who are Caucasian.

Green impressed Seattle Rep artistic director Braden Abraham, who directs “The Comparables.”

“She brings a fierceness and an intelligence to the role that I really responded to,” Abraham said.

Success in Seattle

Green, originally from Marietta, GA, attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  She studied experimental theater, which emphasized creating original works.

Green considers herself a New Yorker, but nevertheless struggled to land good parts in New York after college, she said.

But in Seattle, Green has been thriving. “It’s a town that is thirsty for talent,” she said.

Her roles have largely been not specific to her ethnicity. Green has appeared in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” at Washington Ensemble Theatre; “Chaos Theory” at Annex Theatre; “Twelfth Night” at Island Stage Left; “Break of Noon” at Repertory Actors Theatre; and “Or, the Whale” at Pony World. In May, Green will make her debut at the Seattle Shakespeare Company as Bianca in “Othello.”

This fall, Green will portray a Japanese-American character named Orangutan in the Seattle premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Water by the Spoonful” at West of Lenin.

Playing an Asian character is rare for Green. “I get called in for Asian roles or Asian-American roles often, but I’m not going to get them because I’m really tall,” said Green, who stands 5-foot 9-inches.

Her height is an asset in “The Comparables.” Iris struts into a job interview in a tight skirt, leather jacket and four-inch heels. She disdains self-victimizing women and seeks to achieve gender equality by using anything she has to get what she wants.

“Iris is just very tough. She’s got tenacity. I love that go-getter attitude,” Green said.

“She’s a very East Coast woman,” said Green. “Passive-aggressive doesn’t exist in New York. It’s just aggressive.”

Green also gets her confidence from her background. Her mother comes from Japan and her father is American of French-British ancestry.

Green knows that fitting in as a multiracial person can sometimes be challenging. “You’re not fully in either group so you’re in this limbo often,” she said.

But Green credits her mother and father for her positive self-image and pride in her multiracial heritage. “My parents are still together, which means that I get both sides strongly,” she said. “I’ve never had trouble with self-confidence.”

Green has also found success in Seattle as a writer. Her third full-length play, “Bunnies” — an original musical (music by Jessie Smith) inspired by Woodland Park’s rabbit overpopulation — will make its world premiere in April as part of the Annex Theatre’s mainstage season.

Seattle is also a place where she can do things her way. Green wrote in an audition listing for her latest play: “All roles open to all ethnicities.”

If You Go

“The Comparables” by Laura Schellhardt. Through March 29. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; $16-72 (206-443-2222, 877-900-9285 or seattlerep.org).

“Bunnies” by Keiko Green. Opens April 24 and runs through May 16. Annex Theatre, 1100 E. Pike St., Seattle; $5-20 (206-728-0933 or annextheatre.org).

“Othello” by William Shakespeare. Opens May 1 and runs through May 17, 2015. Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, 201 Mercer St, Seattle; $29-48 (206-733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

Keiko Green, Cheyenne Casebier and Linda Gehringer in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s The Comparables. (Photo by Alabastro Photography, courtesy Seattle Repertory Theatre.)
Keiko Green (center), Cheyenne Casebier and Linda Gehringer in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s The Comparables. (Photo by Alabastro Photography, courtesy Seattle Repertory Theatre.)

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