Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: Aubergine

 
 Sue Jean Kim, Joseph Steven Yang, Stephen Park and Tim Kang. Photo: Joan Marcus

Aubergine
By Julia Cho
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Playwrights Horizons
Through Oct. 2

By Lauren Yarger
What's it All About?
It's a limited engagement of the New York premiere of a play by Julia Cho, winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

Food and its ability to form bonds between people plays a central role in the play which opens the new season at Playwrights Horizons. In scenes that run like vignettes,  we see chef Ray (Tim Kang of “The Mentalist”),  trying to take care of his dying father (Stephen Park), who never approved of his career choice. We also see the rebirth of his relationship with former girlfriend, Cornelia (Sue Jean Kim), who appreciates Ray's unique ability to anticipate just what someone craves in the way of food. Their first date (which we see in flashback) was a wild success when he somehow knew that instead of the many amazing, fancy dishes he might have been able to prepare, the thing she most wanted to taste were berries that brought her sweet memories of when she was a little girl. She helps Ray through the rough times with his father, as does hospice nurse Lucien (Michael Potts), who is full of patience and wisdom. He has seen lots of death, both by working with his patients and in losing his family in Africa. When Ray's uncle (Joseph Steven Yang) arrives from Korea to say goodbye to his estranged brother, it is with a recipe for a special turtle soup that once brought pleasure and he hopes his nephew will be able to recreate the dish -- and the memory of better times to entice his brother to stay a little longer on the planet.

What Are the Highlights?
The lyrical language mixes a story that captures our imaginations as well as a wide range of human emotion. Kate Whoriskey's precise direction keeps all of the ingredients well blended and doesn't end up splattering the message when the timeline beaters shift. The performances are solid across the board. Kang is endearing as the son torn between unresolved feelings about his father and love and duty. We understand his pain as well as his self loathing over wishing he didn't have to deal with any of this. Kim is a nice mix of funny and caring. Yang communicates amusingly through charade-like gestures for a character unable to speak English (subtitles are projected on the back wall of Derek McLane's minimal set which transforms from a hospital to the family dining room to Korea to a restaurant). There's no language barrier, however, when it comes to the love he has for his nephew.

What Are the Lowlights?
The structure of the play sometimes gets in the way of the story. Characters suddenly break from the action to address the audience in soliloquies. They are well written, but often stop the action. Another character ,played by Jessica Love, opens the play with a story of what a pastrami sandwich means to her. Again, the thoughts are well written and we all can relate to that one special food that takes us to a special moment in our life, but we don't have any idea who she is or why she is telling us this. Even though she ends up tying nicely in to Ray's story at the end, her inclusion is still too disjointed and has us wondering more about who she is than in being amazed at Ray's almost supernatural ability to cook the sandwich for her,

More Information:  
Aubergine (which means eggplant, by the way, and this vegetable factors into Lucien's food memories), had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. It cooks up at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC through Sunday, Oct. 12. www.playwrightshorizons.org

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Jennifer Moeller, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Sound Design by M.L. Dogg.  

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

-- Language
-- God's name is taken in vain
-- A moving rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee" is included and brought a number of "amens" from the audience.


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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