One-Woman Play Explores a Mother's Death

Her mom died during a plastic surgery procedure. Now, Susan Lieu is trying to avenge her death on stage with her one-woman play.

Getting to know her mother, even though she’s gone

Susan Lieu sets out to avenge her mom’s death in her one-woman play, 140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother. Lieu is a playwright, performance artist and an activist. 140 LBS is her first theatrical solo show. “140 LBS” details how the Lieu family grappled with Ha’s death in silence for decades — until Ha’s youngest, most overenthusiastic child starts asking more questions. While studying for her master’s in business administration at Yale University, Lieu begins to dig deeper. The audience watches as Lieu pieces together family stories and court records to create a fuller picture of what happened to her mother, who died five days after going into respiratory arrest during an elective surgery in 1996. She was 38.

“That morning she went in for plastic surgery — a tummy tuck, the narrowing of her nostrils, and a chin implant, and figured she’d be home the next day with her beautiful new body. Two hours into the operation, she lost oxygen to her brain. I can’t believe you, ma. You die from a tummy tuck and you’re telling me what I can and cannot eat? I still your mom, OK? I see you when you smoke your pot and you get all the high and then you eat the whole bag potato chip and you all sad, sad you cannot wear bikini,” Susan Lieu tells Brut.

In 2019, she began touring it across the U.S. Lieu plays 11 characters on stage — including her mom. Lieu debuted her play on Feb. 7 at the Theatre Off Jackson in Seattle, where she lives with her husband. The nine-show run sold out, and Lieu returned that July for an encore performance. Now, she is taking her mother’s spirit on a 10-city national tour, with stops in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Santa Fe, N.M., Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.