This week Playbill checks in with Ken Leung, who co-stars in the New Group's 2022-23 season opener, Will Arbery's Evanston Salt Costs Climbing,
which continues through December 18 at The Pershing Square Signature Center
in the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre.
Directed by Danya Taymor, the New York premiere of Arbery's play about climate change is set in Illinois. It casts Leung as salt truck driver Basil, who battles the ice and snow and passes the time with fellow trucker Peter with jokes and stories. Similar to Arbery's prior plays, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Evanston Salt Costs Climbing centers on the trials of regular people living in the Midwest.
The cast also features Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Ruined), Jeb Kreager (Mare of Easttown), and Rachel Sachnoff (who starred in a previous version of the play at White Heron Theatre in Nantucket, Massachusetts).
Leung can also currently be seen starring in HBO’s Industry, while his additional TV credits include ABC’s Lost and HBO’s The Sopranos and High Maintenance. His film work includes Rush Hour, Keeping the Faith, Sucker Free City, and Old.
Playbill caught up with Leung during the show's previews.
What is your typical day like now?
Ken Leung: I get up around six, make coffee, write my son a note to read during snack time, see him off on the school bus, prep for rehearsal, go to rehearsal—which these days have been tech—and perform for preview audiences at night.
How did this role at The New Group come about?
Will Arbery unexpectedly and somewhat mysteriously reached out to me.
Tell me a bit about the character you’re playing in Evanston and what the play is about.
I play a Greek orphan with an unknown past who works as a salt truck driver in Evanston, Illinois.
The play is about, well, many things: Getting through the day. Grappling with the unknown and unknowable. Facing—and not facing—the darker corners of our minds. Grief. Loss. The families we were given and the families we create. Weather. The thing underneath everything. Friendship. Laughter as vital to survival.
Are there any parts of the role or the play that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
There are practically no parts of the play that are not relevant, especially as we crave for things to return to “normal,” knowing perhaps subconsciously that that is not possible.
this time of reflection and reeducation regarding BIPOC artists and
artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in
power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them
to consider further?
That the presence of BIPOC artists in the theatre does not suddenly mean that everything is different. That making changes on the surface, while essential and overdue, is not the same as looking inside ourselves. A journalist recently remarked that my playing a Greek character indicates that the AANHPI [Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders] community has no problems. To the surprise of no one, I am not all of a sudden fielding offers to play Greek characters.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn’t already know?
That children are both more resilient and fragile than we might imagine, and that we are all children.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
Netflix’s upcoming live action Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sony’s upcoming film Missing, and, down the pipe, Season 3 of HBO’s Industry.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
QuietBefore.com, an ongoing series sparked by the surge in anti-Asian violence dedicated to capturing the histories of overlooked communities through conversations with founders and change makers.