BEACH HOUSE — Have you ever eaten a meal that changed your life?
It’s a quirky question, but it’s the question that Los Angeles-based playwright Lucy Wang asked participants last week at “New Year, New Beginnings,” an event at the Annenberg Community Beach House.
The responses ranged from dramatic — a woman from Kenya who went for a week without eating during a bomb strike until her housekeeper invited her over for a meal—to darkly comical — a veteran of Afghanistan recalled the time his unit obtained a live goat from a village, and then realized they had no way to prepare the animal.
The event started off Wang’s term as the writer in residence at the beach house, which will last from Jan. 16 to March 26. Wang, who wrote the plays “Junk Bonds” and “Good Mourning America,” will work on adapting her unpublished novel “Teen Mogul” into a play, as well as drafting a 10 minute short work and finishing a play in progress, “Moo Goo Gai Pan Asian,” during her residency.
Wang will also host more public events at the beach house, focusing on cultural and social traditions and storytelling.
“The most intimate thing you can do is tell strangers your stories,” she said.
To inspire these events, Wang is reaching back into beach house history, by reading Marion Davies’ autobiography, “The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst.”
“I was thinking of trying to do something comedy related, a tribute to Marion Davies’ comedic side,” Wang said of the former beach house resident.
“I was debating having people talk about their second most embarrassing moment.”
Another offbeat question, but considering Wang’s offbeat history, it might not be so surprising. Wang’s family emigrated from Taiwan to Akron, Ohio when she was 2 years old. An abusive father drove away Wang’s mother, and Wang herself, who went to the University of Texas where she pursued a degree in economics.
“I grew up very poor, and so I was full of the American dream,” she said. “I decided to go onto Wall Street.”
Wang traveled to Chicago, and eventually New York, where she worked as a bond trader, and then on Mayor Barry Sullivan’s staff as his deputy chief of staff. But when Rudy Giuliani took over the office in 1994, Wang was out of work.
Wang joined a writing group; something she thought would be a hobby to pass the time, not a career move.
“I used to write short stories. People in my writing group said [of my work], ‘That’s great dialogue, it ought to be a play,’” she said.
Wang switched to writing plays that were inspired by her background without being completely autobiographical, and utilized some of the darkness in her life without dwelling on it, Wang said.
Two of her first were “Bird’s Nest Soup,” the story of a poor immigrant family growing up in the United States, and “Junk Bonds,” an examination of power, ambition and white collar crime.
Since her fateful career change, Wang’s plays have earned her awards and accolades, and been put on stage from the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to the Mark Taper’s lab space, Taper Too. “Junk Bonds” was studied at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
Wang came to the beach house after friends suggested she apply for the artist in residency position, coincidentally right after she had visited Hearst Castle last August.
Wang looks forward to making more unique and inspired activities while being inspired herself, and making some new friends along the way. She might have already done just that.
At the “New Year, New Beginnings” event, one woman said the meal that had changed her life was her favorite dish, which her mother made for her day after day after she had become dangerously underweight. The woman offered to make the meal for the entire group at a later date.
”We all gave her our e-mail addresses. We’re going to organize it. I know the trick will be finding a date where everyone can go,” Wang said.
While at the beach house, Wang’s open office hours are on Mondays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting Feb. 18. Upcoming events are scheduled on Feb. 18 and March 19.
For more information about upcoming events at the beach house, visit www.annenbergbeachhouse.com/beachculture or the beach house artist in residence blog at www.beachhouseair.blogspot.com.