Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Red Speedo

Frank Boyd (Ray) and Laura C. Harris (Lydia) in Studio Theatre's production of Red Speedo. Photo: Teddy Wolff

Frank Boyd (Ray) and Laura C. Harris (Lydia) in Studio Theatre’s production of Red Speedo. Photo: Teddy Wolff

Chlorine. It’s an unmistakable, pervasive odor that greets audience members climbing the stairwell up to the Studio Lab’s production of Red Speedo. It’s one of those scents that taps instantly into memory, permeating everything. For some it brings to mind the leisure of a summer swimming pool, for others the heady competition of swim meets. Here it’s the latter that’s being evoked, and with it, a dose of ethics. There’s a queasy sensation that rises up when your sense of what is right is pitted against your sense of what is wrong. In the heat of competition, moral and physical fiber can be in opposition.

Red Speedo dives into a pretty deep pool of complex arguments, and in doing so owes a great deal to Greek drama, both in its format and in its unabashed way of piling on those arguments ever higher. From the first segment, when a lengthy monologue gives way to a staccato two-character exchange, to the final striking betrayals, it has a Sophoclean air. Lucas Hnath’s play is having its world premiere at Studio Theatre’s Studio Lab, and with all tickets at twenty dollars it’s well worth the eighty minutes of heavy moral quicksand. For the most part, Hnath sticks to scenes between two characters as they continually delude themselves and each other through dilemmas that warp the moral compass. Over it all, that whiff of chlorine heightens the queasy feeling right to the end.

Unless you love the smell of chlorine. In which case, the ends may justify the means. Who can say? It’s that kind of play.  Continue reading

We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Pas de Deux

Pas De Deux at Studio 2ndStage / photo by Igor Dmitry

Pas De Deux at Studio 2ndStage / photo by Igor Dmitry

When Elizabeth and Tom leap at each other to open Skin Tight at The Studio 2ndStage, they’re warning us: love and intensity go hand in hand, and this lyrical, passionate show is about love – real love – so it will be intense.

Skin Tight is one of two one-acts showing as part of Studio 2ndStage’s sexy, imaginative, and thoroughly engaging Pas de Deux: Plays from New Zealand and Canada. The second piece, 2-2 Tango, was one of the first major successes at The Studio 2ndStage back in 1992.

In Skin Tight by Gary Henderson, Tom and Elizabeth relive their passionate marriage through an emotional duet. Poetic at times, violent at others, the piece reflects a love story from the inside out with intimacy and depth. Director Johanna Gruenhut’s staging is the kind that stays in your memory for a long time to pester and delight.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: WLDC 2012-2013 Theater Review

WLDC-Theatre-2-Vid-2_1

Spring is in the air, Cherry Blossoms are coming and going, pesky tourists return to stand on the left side of the escalator.

As the temperature goes up, the DC Theatre season is winding down. With a couple of months to go til we enter the “Summer Reruns”, the We Love DC Theater team got back together at The Passenger to look back at what we said in our earlier preview and how it all shook out.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: 4000 Miles

Grant Harrison and Tana Hicken in Studio Theatre's production of 4000 Miles. Photo credit: Scott Suchman.

Grant Harrison and Tana Hicken in Studio Theatre’s production of 4000 Miles. Photo credit: Scott Suchman.

Some generational theorists say that you can be closer to your grandparents’ world views than to those of your parents. Perhaps that’s true (my grandmother was a cocktail drinker), perhaps it isn’t (those arguments about religion!). I suspect that the kind of relationship you had with your grandparents will strongly inform your reaction to Amy Herzog’s generational drama, 4000 Miles, now playing at Studio Theatre under the direction of its former founding artistic director Joy Zinoman.

Twentysomething Leo (Grant Harrison) turns up at his ninetysomething grandmother Vera’s Greenwich Village apartment in the middle of the night, fresh (or rather, rank) off a cross-country cycling trip that’s ended in tragedy. He’s lost, existentially, but like a homing pigeon has ended up at a haven he considers safe. Vera (Tana Hicken) may still cling to independence, but her speech is peppered with “what do you call it?” forgetfulness, and she’s in just as much need.

The simple moments when they embrace are the most true. Continue reading

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We Love Arts: Dogugaeshi

Basil Twist's production of Dogugaeshi. Photo credit: Richard Termine.

The only reason I didn’t give Basil Twist’s hypnotic Dogugaeshi a standing ovation was that I was simply too stunned to rise from my seat.

Certainly I was prepared to be enchanted, after my last experience of the Basil Twist Festival – Petrushka at Shakespeare Theatre Company – but this was even more intense. Over the course of one hour I’d been transported, body and mind, to a theatrical state I had never experienced before.

There’s a haunting beauty to Dogugaeshi. As it’s a very brief run I urge you to catch it this week before closing on April 22. If it were just a presentation of Japanese folk puppet theater, that would still be reason to see it, but Twist takes this classic form and reframes it as a profound elegy on time and the ephemeral nature of beauty.

It’s the dogugaeshi itself, a “set change” stage mechanism, that tricks the eye until the viewer is almost in a trance. Or is it that strange, playful fox blowing out a candle? Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Astro Boy and the God of Comics

(l to r) Betsy Rosen, Clark Young, Lee Liebeskind, and JB Tadena in Astro Boy and the God of Comics. Photo: Carol Pratt

“Who is Astro Boy? Where did he come from?”

That phrase was repeated in an audio loop, flowing over cheerful marching music, while actors furiously drew cartoons of an impending horror. It might as well have been my own question, coming into Astro Boy and the God of Comics at The Studio 2ndStage without any prior knowledge of artist Osamu Tezuka or of his cartoon creations. That phrase seemed to be the lynchpin of the play’s meaning. It stayed with me for several days, running through my mind, unwilling to be forgotten.

A real boy dies in a horrible accident. A robot boy is created to take his place.

Created and directed by Natsu Onoda Power, Astro Boy and the God of Comics is a seventy minute riff on creation and destruction from both the creative and historical angles. We learn about the brilliant Tezuka through episodes presented in reverse chronological order – seamless mash-ups of live action, video, projections and puppetry. It’s a dizzying concoction that might almost seem gimmicky if it weren’t for the production’s total commitment to the bright-eyed, vivid intensity of comics.

Honestly? It might be a bit genius.

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We Love Arts: Lungs

Brooke Bloom and Ryan King in "Lungs" at Studio Theatre. Photo credit: Carol Pratt.

With British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, Studio Theatre begins The Studio Lab Series – new plays produced bare bones for $20 a ticket. It’s an admirable venture that I’m excited to watch develop.

However, this first play out of the gate isn’t particularly innovative – though if the playwright’s intention is to resurrect the existential crises of the 1980′s TV series Thirtysomething for today’s thirtysomethings, then certainly he has suceeded. Or, as one woman  put it, leaving the theater in a negative huff, "white people’s problems."

It’s a pity the subject matter isn’t attacked in a more daring way, because Macmillan has a beautiful way with words. The natural cadence of the language, poetical vibrancy mixed with modern urgency, is definitely potent – but it’s at the service of the wrong plot. Lungs is jampacked with tired rom com characterizations about a young couple’s struggle to decide the future of their relationship. If it weren’t for the expressive sincerity displayed by the high professionalism of the actors and the direction, I might believe it to be an intentional (and rather cruel) satire on the "quarterlife crisis" movement. Especially as the plot can seem like hipster cliches on crack:

She’s the environmentalist PhD candidate, he’s the slacker musician! She’s a little bit psycho, he’s a little bit clueless! Wait, he’s the one who wants the baby? Insert Ikea and coffeeshop jokes! Watch out for the temp!

There’s not a single stereotypical moment in the lifeline of coupledom that isn’t explored here, the whole painful process of a paralyzed generation that supposedly thinks too much and acts too little. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Habit of Art

Ted van Griethuysen and Paxton Whitehead in The Habit of Art. Photo: Scott Suchman

Artistic process. Can it make for a sexy night at the theater? The grueling path to perfection through grinding repetition, as the artist develops techniques and habits that can release creativity or stifle it, sometimes makes for a great play. Sometimes not. Recently Studio Theatre explored the artistic process in Venus in Fur, where the artist must grapple with his muse in a deadly game. It was electrifying.

But not all process is sexy. Sometimes it’s downright plodding. The Habit of Art is another play-within-a-play about rehearsal and collaboration, written by British playwright Alan Bennett (perhaps best known to American audiences as the writer of The Madness of King George). It’s a dense work that might delight lovers of British theater history (Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Richard Eyre all have important references), taking place as it does in a rehearsal room at the National Theatre. It might also delight lovers of British culture, as the play-within-a-play details the charged reunion of former collaborators, poet W.H. Auden and composer Benjamin Britten.

There are moments of hilarity interspersed with painful truths, as Bennett skewers all facets of the artistic process. There are also moments of well, boredom, just as in life. Though it features a talented cast, a thoughtful director, and a fascinating subject, often I found The Habit of Art difficult to watch because of its realism – parts drag on like an afternoon with a brilliant old don who has lost his spark. Only at the very end was I teased by a monologue that made me realize that may be Bennett’s intention, as a stage manager simply explains how the very habits of the artistic process, the act of trying repeatedly to achieve success even in the face of failure, may be the true value after all. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: POP!

Tom Story in Pop! by Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K. Jacobs. Directed by Keith Alan Baker, with Hunter Styles and Jennifer Harris. The Studio 2ndStage. Photo: Scott Suchman

What to expect from a musical about Andy Warhol, the late 20th century pop art genius who smashed convention and provided a nest for self-proclaimed misfits to help him create wild non-conformist art? His shooting by self-proclaimed revolutionary feminist Valerie Solanas seems like it would make excellent fodder – after all, when Warhol Superstar Viva heard the first shot fired from over the phone, she “thinks it is somebody cracking a whip left over from the Velvet Underground days.”

Possibly the best way to enjoy POP! is to get bombed on your poison of choice, doll up in some outrageous outfits, and loll on the front row cushions like denizens of Warhol’s famous Factory. Everything is a little too clean in this staging at The Studio 2nd Stage, and it needs some chaos. Perhaps it’s up to the audience to provide it, because the book and lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman get too lost in its construct of a “murder mystery” party. Though there are key moments that speak to Warhol’s power over his Superstars, his feeding off their craving for attention and love while maintaining his voyeurism, this musical could’ve used a hell of a lot more anarchy.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of talent on display. The cast’s singing is spectacular, so strong they blow out their mikes occasionally. They’re effectively competing for your sympathy just as the real Warhol Superstars might have done had you wondered into their lair. It’s especially fitting that in a musical about a man who preferred to put others in the spotlight, it’s Candy Darling (Matthew Delorenzo) who reigns supreme here in a striking performance of glitter and pathos. As the emcee of the evening, guiding us through the “mystery” of who shot Warhol on June 3, 1968, Delorenzo is simply incandescent.

But Anna K. Jacobs’ score struck me as all wrong – don’t expect any nods to Warhol cohorts Nico or Lou Reed. Velvet Underground this isn’t. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The History of Kisses

Photo by Carol Pratt

The ocean is a silent character in David Cale’s The History of Kisses at Studio Theatre, a one-man show that is currently enjoying its world premiere. Cale was inspired to write the semi-based-on-real-life piece after discovering an old photo of an unknown couple kissing on the deck of a boat. He imagines a world behind the photo filling in the details through an interconnected series of vignettes depicting romances between those in the photo, an alter-ego of himself called James, and the guests and staff working at James’ hotel. Connected by the common themes of love and a common element of the sea, Cale finds himself in the role of many characters ranging from a middle-aged divorcee to a retired Navy man-turned composer. The History of Kisses is a boat of mixed company merrily making its way to a brighter destination. The journey isn’t without a few turbulent waves however, and it suffers from a few bumps that slow down the show’s journey.

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The DC Theatre Community Gears Up For Theatre Prom 2K11!

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_2063′
courtesy of ‘dbking’

My pal Brieahn J. DeMeo calls it Theatre Prom.

I call it the fanciest event I ever had to get dressed for.

Sure I’ve been to weddings, but it’s easy when you know you just have to rent a tux and you are all set. For this one I had to call in the big guns- I rang up Brittany and she set me straight.

I’m talking about the Helen Hayes awards, the annual night where the local theatre community honors the outstanding plays and musicals of the past year. It’s kind of like the Tony’s- but for stuff that happens at Kennedy Center and Arena Stage. 26 awards will be presented tonight as well as three special awards to Ford’s Theatre (Innovative Leadership in the Theatre Community), Factory 449 and No Rules Theatre Company (Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company), and stage legend Tommy Tune will be honored with the he Helen Hayes Tribute.

Tonight also marks the debut of a Helen Hayes commemorative stamp issued by the United States Postal Service.

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Entertainment, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The New Electric Ballroom

(l to r) Nancy Robinette, Jennifer Mendenhall, and Sybil Lines in The New Electric Ballroom by Enda Walsh. Directed by Matt Torney. Photo: Carol Pratt.

Countless poets have asked the question – is love worth the risk of a broken heart? Are fleeting moments of a racing pulse and desire’s first flush worth facing the possibility of loss and loneliness?

To those questions, Irish playwright Enda Walsh adds – is it better to just stay safe inside? In The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom, playing now in repertory at Studio Theatre, “inside” is both the literal confines of a fixed space and the “inside” of one’s own mind and heart. “Inside” is both as safe and confining as the womb, the physical space as limited as the mental world is limitless. The choice of staying in or going out is of vital concern, stamping the characters with an equal dose of longing and repulsion.

Whereas The Walworth Farce deals with how this choice impacts three men and the woman who comes into their space, The New Electric Ballroom turns that question over to three women and the man who enters. “And enter then” is a phrase constantly repeated here, a reminder that no matter how safely we bind ourselves against risk, it always finds a way to seep in to our carefully constructed lives. Just as in The Walworth Farce, the three women in The New Electric Ballroom have constructed a daily world of stories, re-enacting the past where two elder sisters first met and lost love. The stories here are also a warning of the risk of the outside.

The results are not as physically violent, but the women are just as scarred, the desperate longing to escape from the demeaning cycle of small-town gossip driving them deeper into their minds. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Walworth Farce

Ted van Griethuysen and Aubrey Deeker in The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh. Directed by Matt Torney. Photo credit: Carol Pratt.

In a dingy public housing apartment three men act out a daily routine, a twisted attempt at farce that’s rife with repeated humiliation and competition. It’s a “routine to keep the family safe,” the patriarch justifies, and it takes a bit for the audience to catch on that what they are seeing is the desperate attempt of an immigrant family to hold on to their past – as the fleeting smell of their mother’s roast chicken fades from their jackets.

Irish playwright Enda Walsh is one of my favorites (seeing Disco Pigs is still among my top theatrical experiences in DC), and the brilliant opening of New Ireland: The Enda Walsh Festival at Studio Theatre – Penelope - definitely raised my hopes for the next two productions. The Walworth Farce is next up, and though its first act has the tension build of a horror movie, it slowly winds down when it should crank up in the second act. Perhaps that was only the energy level of the matinee I saw, and there’s still time to get it sharper with the run already extended.

The play is perhaps a metaphor for the Irish immigrant condition, with the family patriarch Dinny (Ted van Griethuysen) keeping his boys locked up from the outside world of South London. Keeping them safe means keeping their memories of the home they left behind intact, down to the very smell, their Cork accents untouched. The play’s language is full of the deep nostalgia for things you can barely recall. But the memories the father instills in his sons are false, a story told repeatedly to hide the truth – that their diaspora was a necessity out of guilt and fear. Just to kick up that metaphor even more, the guilt is fratricide, which the boys are doomed to repeat.

It’s truly freaky how the first act unfolds, like an Irish Monty Python doing a sick reading of Flowers in the Attic. The three men toss about wigs and prank glasses and 1970′s clothes all too seriously. Then the father notices a mistake, breaks character, and the horror movie begins in earnest.  Continue reading

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We Love (Irish) Arts: Penelope

Niall Buggy, Aaron Monaghan, and Karl Shiels in Druid's Penelope by Enda Walsh. Directed by Mikel Murfi. Photo credit: Robert Day

Madly poetic men in speedos, trapped with a broken grill in an abandoned swimming pool. Above them is an unobtainable beauty in a blue dress. While waiting for her to say yes or no to their proposals of love, they’ve gotten fat and old. Now her husband is coming back to barbecue them all.

Did I mention speedos?

The initial sight gag that opens Penelope had the packed theater giggling. An overly bronzed man in an orange speedo grilling up a tiny sausage instantly telegraphs this is an absurd world ripe with comedy. Or is it? There’s a suspicious blood spatter stage right…

Playwright Enda Walsh is brilliant at pulling you through laughs to a sucker-punch of a tragic conclusion. It’s the gift of the Irish bard, perhaps, that superlative facility at weaving language into tales, leading an audience from laughter to tears. Galway’s Druid has brought his genius to Studio Theatre as part of the New Ireland Festival through April 3, and it’s a deservedly hot ticket this St. Patrick’s Day with Walsh speaking after tonight’s performance.

A re-imagining of Homer’s Odyssey from the point -of-view of faithfully waiting wife Penelope’s suitors, it explores what happens to the men when action is thwarted and purpose diverted. Do they gang up together and storm the castle to take Penelope by force? No. They sit around sunning themselves, drinking fruity cocktails. Then they turn on each other like a pack of dogs. Continue reading

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New Ireland Festival Kicks Off

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courtesy of ‘erin m’

Tonight the New Ireland: Enda Walsh Festival kicks off at Studio Theatre. Who is Enda Walsh? An amazing Irish playwright responsible for (among others) a brilliant play about disgruntled youth, Disco Pigs, and the co-screenwriter behind the excruciating film Hunger, about Bobby Sands’ hunger strike to protest British rule.

This Thursday you can meet the man himself after the performance of his riff on the Ulysses myth, Penelope, produced by the Druid, Ireland company. Future performances in April include The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom, a screening of Hunger, and other conversations on the state of Irish arts, including a panel with DC’s own Linda Murray from Solas Nua. It’s all part of new artistic director David Muse’s desire to bring in international performances to Studio, and I think it’s gearing up to be a great initiative.

Being proud to be an Irish American should mean more than just wearing the green and drinking beer. Challenge yourself to explore more about the New Ireland. And anyway, who better to share St. Patrick’s Day with than the man famously quoted by the Guardian as saying, “I’ve never had to punch anyone, but I know I won’t regret it if I do.”

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Tynan

Philip Goodwin in Tynan at the Studio Theatre. Photo credit: Carol Pratt

Anyone who arrives at self-knowledge through desperation is the raw material for a great play.
– Kenneth Tynan

Watching Tynan reminded me that I should make sure my journals get burned at my death (oh wait, what about that online diary in the cloud? too late!). No matter how we are in life, the voice we give free rein to in our diary is by its nature egocentric. Does it make for good drama?

Richard Nelson and Colin Chambers adapted The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan into a one-man play, helmed in this special engagement by beloved DC actor Philip Goodwin at the Studio Theatre. It’s a monologue of choice (and not-so-choice) moments from the last ten years of Tynan’s life, a man many consider the greatest theater critic of the last century. There’s a heavy resignation in listening to the musings of a dying man, and this adaptation is more a conventional staged reading than anything approaching the revolutionary theater Tynan championed. Unless of course, you think it’s subversive to hear all about his fascination with canings and an anal fixation to rival the Marquis de Sade’s – there’s a lot of that to listen to in this adaptation. As the impresario behind Oh! Calcutta and the first person to drop the f-bomb on the BBC in 1965, Tynan was a famous proponent of obscenity, so it isn’t completely out of place.

If you have a theatrical background there are fun anecdotes of personalities like Olivier to keep your interest, and if you are familiar with Tynan’s work, enough of his philosophy comes through to inspire. But if you know nothing about him, I’m not sure you’ll get anything more than a sad sense of a once-brilliant man being wrung thin by sickness, debauchery and the end of life.

And where’s the relevance in that? (Tynan would’ve spanked me for asking that!) Continue reading

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We Love Arts: Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet

(l to r) Lance Coadie Williams, J. Mal McCree, and Nickolas Vaughan in "Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet" at The Studio Theatre. Directed by Timothy Douglas. Photo: Scott Suchman.

Rain patters down plastic sheeting, as a man all in ghostly white speaks to a sleeping boy. He needs a message delivered to the living, on the eve of a dangerous storm that will change them all.

It’s this eerie image that begins the final play in Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister Plays, described by him as “inspired by Yoruba life and traditions, steeped in Southern rhythms and cadences, and seamed shut with the fire of urban music and dance.” If you’ve seen the other two in the cycle – The Brothers Size (2008) and In the Red and Brown Water (2010), you’ll probably know who the man in white is and what he needs. I hadn’t seen either, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet.

Playing now through February 13 at the Studio Theatre, the play is set in fictional San Pere, Louisiana on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, and though the storm is never mentioned by name its presence saturates everything. Teenager Marcus Eshu (a vibrant J. Mal McCree) is trying hard to discover the meaning of his dream’s message and untangle his own sexuality without alienating his best friends. Above all – stay out of danger, avoid his mother’s wrath and become a man in the process.

He’ll have to work fast, as that rain approaches. Continue reading

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We Love Arts: Superior Donuts

(l to r) Johnny Ramey and Richard Cotovsky in Superior Donuts at The Studio Theatre. Directed by Serge Seiden. Photo: Carol Pratt

Studio Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts is the definitive tale of modern immigration. Within the Chicago neighborhood of uptown, playwright Tracy Letts finds the perfect setting for a refreshing, honest look at immigration in America. Inside the confines of a run-down, locally owned donut shop, we go on a journey that is as old as the first visitors to Ellis Island, exiles from wars of the past, and even the passengers of the Mayflower.

The owner of the eponymous “Superior Donuts,” Arthur Przybyszewski (Richard Cotovsky), is not only a burnt-old hippie, but an early generation American born from Polish parents. When he hires Franco (Johnny Ramey), an ambitious young African-American, it is more than a clash of generations; it is an intersection of two different perspectives of the immigrant story.

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We Love Arts: Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven

(l to r): Patricia Penn, Sue Jin Song and Youngsun Cho in Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven by Young Jean Lee at The Studio 2ndStage. Directed by Natsu Onoda Power. Photo credit: Carol Pratt

“My work is about struggling to achieve something in the face of failure and incompetence and not-knowing. The discomfort and awkwardness involved in watching this struggle reflects the truth of my experience.”

— Young Jean Lee, playwright

It would be easy to write about Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven as a play about racist stereotypes, the culpability of bigotry that we all share regardless of personal race. Certainly there is a great deal of that theme on display at The Studio 2ndStage’s production, playing now through October 24. But essentially, to me this is a play about failure – the failure to understand one another, to communicate, to believe, to love oneself. It’s a powerful piece with a core of deep self-hatred and the awful humor that comes from knowing one’s weakness, and giving in to it. 

Raw emotion like that is not easy to watch, so the pre-set tricks the audience into false sense of tranquility. Shepherded behind the seats through an incense-filled temple walkway, glowing with candles and red paper lanterns, you might think you’re in for a lovely spa evening.

Then three women in beautiful traditional Korean costumes reveal a video of playwright Young Jean Lee, her tear-streaked face puffy from repeated hard slaps, her eyes wounded and staring at you, her audience – her tormenters and conspirators.

You probably wouldn’t expect to laugh after that opening. But you do. Continue reading