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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Bruce T. Paddock
These are not brand-new themes. Literary and theatrical works have been knocking them around for at least a century. But they're getting a fresh, new airing in Jason Kim's The Model American, currently playing on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Kim and director Danny Sharron spent the last year workshopping the play at WTF. Both are young, gay men — one an immigrant and the other the son of immigrants— and their sensibilities inform the entire production.
Gabriel, a recent arrival from an unnamed Spanish-speaking country, is determined to improve himself and to get ahead. He dreams of owning a 1967 Cadillac Eldorado and running the Coca Cola Company. He fabricates a resume to get in the door of a civic-minded internet startup, and he repeats what he hears on television in order to lose his accent.
He is fiercely loyal to Emmett, the activist-entrepreneur who gave him his start. But that loyalty is tested when Tina, the investor who gave the company its start, gains control and starts moving the business toward making money without necessarily doing good.
In an interview printed in the program, Kim talks about bringing two of the actors from the workshops into this debut production. It's hard to say how successful this production would have been without one of those actors: Hiram Delgado, who plays Gabriel. His trajectory from brash, eager immigrant to loyal but ambitious right-hand man to self-confidant, cigar-smoking bigwig is a wonder to watch. I'm sure there are any number of Latino actors out there who would have done an exemplary job with the role; nonetheless, I'm glad I got to see Delgado.
The other transplant from the workshops, Han Jonghoon, is adorable and endearing as Jae Won, a South Korean immigrant who befriends Gabriel in the shelter they both live in. Without Jonghoon's charm and talent, the opening scene, a five-minute monologue entirely in Korean, might have been deadly. Instead, Jonghoon makes it fun.
Jae Won starts out as a comedic foil and exposition-receiver, but ends up being Gabriel's conscience. The script deals harshly, unnecessarily so, with the character in a tossed-off reference in the next-to-last scene. I believe that something slightly less drastic would have been enough to provoke the same reaction from Gabriel, but I'm not the playwright.
Maurice Jones plays Emmett, who sets up a company to sell crafts made in third world countries and lift their makers out of poverty. Jones's Emmett is a straight-arrow do-gooder at the office, but a scene with his sister, Cora, shows other sides of the character. Cora appears in only two scenes, but Sheria Irving makes the most of them, especially one near the end of the play that's set in a church.
Laila Robins commands the stage whenever she steps onto it, fittingly so for Tina, her driven businesswoman character. Tina has the upper hand in every scene in which she appears, and Robins conveys that— sometimes subtly, sometimes forcefully. It's a testament to Robins, as well as Kim and Sharron,that Tina was my favorite character despite the fact that her goal is to destroy both Emmett's dream and Gabriel's humanity. OK, technically her goal is simply to make money, to be successful. But the fact that the path she sets out on must necessarily lead to the destruction of both Emmett's dream and Gabriel's humanity is less than irrelevant to her.
The set, light, and costumes are all perfectly fine but nothing special but with two exceptions, one good, one bad. Bad: Several characters make a big deal out of Emmett's desk, which apparently conveys authority and success. It would have been nice if the thing actually had done that. Good: I was delighted by the costumes in the final scene. Set at a naturalization swearing-in ceremony, it's particularly poignant in what it tells us about the United States and about Gabriel.
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The Model American by Jason Kim
Directed by Danny Sharron
Cast: Hiram Delgado (Gabriel) Han Jonghoon (Jae Won) Sheria Irving (Cora) Maurice Jones (Emmett) Laila Robions (Tina) Micah Stock (Jude)
Scenic design: Wilson Chin
Lighting design: Eric Southern
Costume design: Jessica Pabst
Sound design: Brandon Wolcott
Stage Manager: Samantha Fremer
Running Time: 95 minutes; no intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival Nikos Stage; 1000 Main Street, Williamstown, MA
From 6/28/17; opening 7/1/17; closing 7/9/17
Reviewed by Bruce T. Paddock at July 1 performance
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