While researching The Brothers Paranormal, his latest comedy-horror play, about Thai-American brothers who launch a ghost-hunting business, Prince Gomolvilas was invited to go on a ghost hunt with the Los Angeles Paranormal Association.
The owner of a private residence in Santa Clarita had reported overwhelming paranormal activity: objects flying off shelves, a pinball machine that turned on even when unplugged, children talking to their invisible friends.
Gomolvilas, 40, who says he's "always on the lookout for proof of the paranormal," accompanied three investigators (including Layla Halfhill, a half-Thai American who was on Gomolvilas' favorite ghost-hunting show, Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures) to check it out.
Not only was the woman's house near the epicenter of 1928's St. Francis Dam disaster but the previous owners' daughter had died after falling down a well, and there was a cemetery in the backyard.
"When [the owner] mentioned that we were [also] near an Indian burial ground, I started laughing hysterically," Gomolvilas says. "It's like those stupid movies that overdo it. I could buy the dam, the girl and the cemetery. But the Indian burial ground? Come on, really?"
Five hours later — and one door opening by itself during the night — the results were inconclusive, and Gomolvilas still can't quite believe in the ghosts he writes about.
Born in Indianapolis and raised in Monrovia, Gomolvilas' career started while he was a college student in San Francisco. In the next decade, he became known for his plays, including Big Hunk o' Burnin' Love and The Theory of Everything (winner of the PEN Center USA West Literary Award for Drama), which have been performed everywhere from L.A.'s East West Players to Singapore Repertory. He eventually made his way back to Los Angeles in 2002, and lives in Glendale.
Recently named the associate director of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, founded in 1971 as the country's first multigenre creative writing program, Gomolvilas is an appropriate symbol of its multidimensional spirit. He is a rare Thai American playwright — he jokingly challenges you to find another, as he tried and failed while organizing a panel for Thai American writers at USC in 2010.
He also performs his own storytelling show, Jukebox Stories, with singer-songwriter Brandon Patton. For its third incarnation, which runs in Berkeley's Impact Theatre this month, Gomolvilas will be telling personal stories about tarot cards and fortunetelling.
As a "double minority," Gomolvilas explores his Asian-American and gay identities in his writing, but often through plots involving aliens, secret powers and fantasy worlds. Sometimes a curse that's befallen Thai-American bachelors who haven't married before they were 30 results in spontaneous combustion; other times, a high school nerd bitten by a radioactive ladybug becomes superhero Captain Queer.
While Gomolvilas didn't start exploring his Thai culture until college and didn't come out till he was 24, he has been obsessed with the supernatural since he was a child watching The Twilight Zone and reading Stephen King novels.
"If you want to pathologize it, it could be me growing up as the only Asian kid in Indiana, trying to escape," says Gomolvilas, whose kindergarten teacher arbitrarily crowned him "Prince" because she couldn't pronounce his Thai name, Khamolpat.
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"The extreme of that is to escape into things that are outside of my realm of reality," he says. "I've always been interested in the tension between what is real and what is not. Not only in terms of the laws of the physical universe but also through the world as we know it: how we perceive things and how other people perceive us."
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