Tourist Trap
by Elijah Guo

Featured image for “Tourist Trap”





Grace, Deborah and Shu-Ling are on a mission to find the world’s largest Applebee’s before it gets too late. However, as they grow delirious with hunger and exhaustion, they struggle to find meaning in their own dissociated lives as the whirlwind of Times Square becomes otherworldly and strange.




Elijah Guo is a writer/actor/musician whose playwriting credits include Button Lake Band Camp (Clubbed Thumb Winterworks), Birdigo (?!: New Works at The Brick), The Class (showcase for the Tony-winning Broadway For All) and Time and Materials (collaboration with Poet Laureate Robert Hass at UC Berkeley). As a screenwriter, his original pilot My Friend Will premiered at Tribeca and streamed on The Roku Channel, and his original series Stand-Ins premiered at the Emmys-partnered Catalyst TV Festival. Elijah is an alum of the Clubbed Thumb Early Career Writers’ Group and Harvardwood TV Writers Program, finalist for the Emmys Foundation Screenwriting Fellowship and David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction, and winner of the Sundance Collab Screenwriting Challenge and the David Mamet Playwriting Contest (American Conservatory Theater). As an actor, Elijah has appeared on shows like Law & Order: SVU (NBC) and High Maintenance (HBO). IG @elijahguo | Website:




When did you start writing plays? If you had a moment where you realized you wanted to write, what was it?

I started drawing (poorly-rendered) cartoons when I was four, inspired by my mother and her ballroom-dancing adventures. Many moons later, I was motivated to write my first play during my internship with the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, where the artistic ether finally allowed me to overcome my fears about shipping my words off to the tempestuous, beautiful sea of the theatrical stage. As an actor/writer/multi-hyphenate, I’ve always taken John Patrick Shanley’s words to heart – “writing is acting is directing is living your life” – and indeed, once I became less fearful in my writing, the same began to happen for the experience of my life journey.


How did you come to write your OOB play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? How has it developed?

I’ve felt the pressure to write an “identity piece” about being Asian-American for a long time. The only problem is that, despite growing up with Chinese parents, I’ve never felt Chinese (I was born in Montana, I can’t even speak the language, and growing up I was never interested in my history). All that I have is a dissociated sense of cultural identity, an anthropological interest in my family mythology, a robust love of darkly comedic absurdity. So I thought of my mother and her own struggles with the liminal experience of being a “westernized” Chinese-American immigrant within various intersections of responsibility – and split her into three characters, lost in the great maze of Times Square, an appropriate space to represent the overwhelming chaos of humanity. The idea of tourism, of being an outsider/explorer, spoke to my mother’s experience and my own inherited sense of dissociation. In developing Tourist Trap, I’ve discovered that, in a way, we are all tourists finding our way through aspects of ourselves and the world around us.


What are five words that describe who you are as a playwright?

Squiggly, sharp, musical, punny, observant.


What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?

Julia Izumi’s work, particularly Regretfully, So the Birds Are, has really sparked my interest in exploring my identity (or lack thereof) through ambitious absurdism, comedy and disconnected experience (and animal characters). In this vein, I’ve gained creative fuel through the magical realism of Maria Irene Fornés and José Rivera. I’m also obsessed with raunchy historical anachronism, à la The Great and The Favourite.


What’s one fact someone would never guess about you?

I have perfected a Jimmy Stewart duck impression, thanks in part to a play I wrote and performed that utilized two of my favorite things: 1) Old Hollywood, and 2) bird noises.


What are some of your favorite plays?

An impossible question! But here are some of the pieces that have lived in my mind that currently rise to the surface:

The Clean House, Sarah Ruhl
Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties, Jen Silverman
Durango, Julia Cho
The Mountaintop, Katori Hall
Or, Liz Duffy Adams
The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe


Any new projects you’re working on or shameless plugs?

I’m currently writing a musical about the 17th-century Affair of the Poisons, in which French women in the court of Louis XIV were accused of witchcraft for poisoning their husbands and asserting their reproductive rights!

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