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A CurtainUp D Review
"They turned the lights out to scare us and then ... I don't know maybe they did not come back on again for me."— Zhang
Ron Menzel and Tessa Klein (Photo by Igor Dmitry)
Just as the image last week of a dead three-year old Syrian child on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey captured the severity of the current refugee crisis so did the photo of a young Chinese man, standing in front of one of the tanks that rolled into Beijing's Tianamen Square in 1989. Given modern technology those iconic images seen around the world have given a universal consciousness of the evils and heartbreaks caused by clashing ideologies.

The U.S. premiere of Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, a huge hit in London two years ago, is currently at Washington's Studio Theatre. The play's trajectory begins with the crushing of a rebellion by young ,Chinese. They see around them the industrialization that leads to jobs and prosperity; but they also see the downside such as pollution of the atmosphere as well as values.

Joe, an American novice photo journalist, who sees from the window of his hotel room in Beijing the events in Tianamen Square, takes his camera and starts shooting. By being in the right place (journalistically) at the right time, he gets the shot that symbolizes the seismic political events as they unfold. His career is launched but nothing over the next twenty-three years will make its mark on his curiosity more than Tank Man, the sole Chinese male who stood in defiance of one of the tanks.

Playwright Lucy Kirkwood works through a bucket list of historical, economic and personal events between 1989 and 2012. What happened to Tank Man and the photographer brings a human scale to the symbiotic relationship between the super powers, China and the United States.

With 38 scenes and more than 20 characters Chimerica might be called epic but it is more likely to be thought of as overly long. The same points are made repeatedly.

Director David Muse has his actors pause at length which makes a repetitive plot plod along slowly. Neither protagonist gives a sufficiently forceful performance. Ron Menzel as Joe Schofield fails to convey convincingly his curiosity about what happened to Tank Man. Rob Yang as Zhang Lin, Tank Man, shows little or no range in his emotions. Lee Sellars as Mel Stanwyck, the writer with whom Joe travels, is sometimes hard to understand (as are a few of the Chinese characters) when he speaks too rapidly and/or with his back to the audience. Jade Wu, however, is excellent as the wily Chinese characters she plays.

The play picks up when Tessa Klein, as the marketing analyst and love interest, Tessa Kendrick, is on stage. She brings vivacity to a wide range of ideas and emotions. Plus ,she's tall, her movements are elegant and she nailed an English accent.

Paul Morella, one of the most reliable actors in town, plays two characters: a cameo cliche of an American tourist and, more importantly and substantively, Frank, the editor of the news outlet Joe and Mel work for.

Playwright Kirkwood gets off some zingers about the news business all of which ring true but none is particularly original. Maybe they sounded better in London two years ago.

Blythe Quinlan's set is very clever as its two small rooms at center stage — one on top of the other— are curtained by what looks like rice paper. They are surrounded by a revolving path. Angled walls provide an excellent backdrop for Zachary G. Borovay's projections including the iconic image of Tank Man that also reminds us that a picture, as another cliche states, is worth a thousand words — or in this case, many thousands.

Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood
US premiere
Director, David Muse
Set Designer, Blythe R. D. Quinlan
Costume Designer, Helen Huang
Lighting Designer, Mary Louise Geiger
Sound Designer, Matt Tierney
Projections Designer, Zachary G. Borovay

Cast: Ron Menzel (Joe Schofield); Paul Morella (Frank, Herb and others); Lee Sellars (Mel Stanwyck); Tessa Klein (Tessa Kendrick); Rob Yang (Zhang Lin); Julie-Ann Elliott (Doreen, Maria Dubiecki and others); Kenneth Lee (Zhang Wei, Pengsi and others); Jordan Barbour (Paul Kramer, David Barker, Peter Rourke and others); Diana Oh (Mary Chang, Michelle, Pengsi's Wife and others); Jacob Yeh (Young Zhang Lin, Benny and others); Kelsey Wang (Liuli, Jennifer and others); Jade Wu (Ming Ziaoli, Feng Meihui and others.)

Run time: 3 hours and 15 minutes with one short intermission.
Studio Theatre/Metheny, 1501 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC ;; 202-332-3300. September 9 to October 18, 2015. Tickets $44-$88.

Review of September 13 matinee performance by Susan Davidson
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