by Lynn on February 15, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District, Toronto, Ont.,

Written by Michael Golamco
Directed by Ins Choi
Set and Lighting by Ken MacKenzie
Costumes by Jackie Chau
Sound by Samuel Sholdice
Cast: TJ Riley
Miquelon Rodriguez
Rosie Simon
Jonathan Tan.

Note: Catching up on shows that opened earlier but I have caught up to them only recently

An initially annoying little play that tries so hard to be provocative that it’s obvious, but then redeems itself in the end.

The Story. Playwright Michael Golamco uses Cyrano de Bergerac as his frame of reference. We are in a small town in Wyoming, population 1000 which included a population of two Asians. Chester is Asian but of what type is a mystery. He was adopted but the orphanage from where he was adopted closed and no one can find the papers that said from which Asian country he came. Over the course of the play he will assume various nationalities: Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, etc. because of some quick deductions on his part. He is the angriest person in the play. He is also a racist regarding everyone else in town because he is trying to find his place in the world and therefore blames everybody else for his inadequate feelings.

Travis is an English teacher of Korean descent who moved from Los Angeles. He had an unhappy love affair and needed a fresh start. He likes the town. Del is a part-time gym teacher, full-time cowboy with a sweet ‘ah-shucks’ way about him. Veronica is the new biology teacher. She too is Korean. She only dates white men. Travis is smitten with her, as is Chester. But Del is the one who catches her eye.

The Production. The play opens on a meeting of the Asian association of the town. Remember there is a population of two, so two people attend; Chester who is the president and Travis who is the recording secretary. Travis. Travis puts into perspective the silliness of the situation. Chester is adamant that this is important. There is banter about how difficult it is to get tofu or any Korean food. Again Travis has to remind Chester that there are only two people of Korean decent (assuming Chester thinks he’s Korean that day) in the town, and they are both in the room. It might not seem a smart move to order food for only two customers in a town of 1000.

Chester’s anger and racism are soon clear. As the play goes on I wonder what purpose he serves spewing such anger and therefore diminishing his credibility as an accommodating and believable friend to Travis, as is clear in the source material of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Then Veronica arrives and the men, Chester, Travis and Del, are unhinged. Travis has charm and grace, certainly as played by Jonathan Tan, and so Veronica invites him over to her place to make him some Korean food. She has made it clear she dates white men. She won’t date Asians. Travis is disappointed but does not let on. They are friends. Chester has his eyes on Veronica but grudgingly so. Del is smitten and so is Veronica.

Del feels a fool in trying to express his feelings for Veronica so he asks Travis to write her letters as if he (Travis) was Del. It works. But then it doesn’t because Del sabotages himself.

Director Ins Choi keeps the staging fluid. Scenes zip along as does the dialogue. As Del, T.J. Riley is a simple man with insecurities that are easily dealt with by just dispensing with anything that is too complicated. He doesn’t seem to fight for anything. Veronica, on the other hand, as played by the feisty Rosie Simon, fights for everything in a matter-of-fact way. She is direct, sharp and focused. Finally as Chester, Miquelon Rodriguez just seem angry and belligerent all the time. While this character has a counterpart in Cyrano de Bergerac because he has been written as such a rabid racist with a huge chip on his shoulder in Cowboy Versus Samurai I just don’t see his point here.

There is a scene between Veronica and Chester again presented as duelling one-liners only each questions the other’s integrity and prejudices, and I wonder what this serves except an opportunity for the playwright to voice his concerns. Why either character would care about the other’s thoughts is a mystery.

Comment. This is a clever idea of a play. I just wished that Michael Golamco had actually written something that was better than glib for the most part. There are times when it seems as if characters are having a fast and furious ping-pong match of whacking one-liners, with out much thought given to the delivery, rather than a discussion. I would say that director Ins Choi could have slowed the pace of his actors to give the sense that the characters actually thought of the line and were actually talking to each other, rather than give the lines at break-neck speed suggesting that a thinking character was not the point. Too often I didn’t think that characters were actually speaking. More often I thought the playwright was showing off.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Copmpany

Opened: Feb. 5, 2016.
Closes: Feb. 20, 2016.
Cast: 4; 3 men, 1 woman.
Running Time: 2 hours.

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