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A CurtainUp Review

You're saying you can hear them {the infant and her Nanny} 2 floors above? I can't hear anything. --- Kit
I hear her. Being a mother has given me superhero powers. --- Nina

Sandra Oh
Sandra Oh (Photo: Michael David)
In The birth of a baby girl may have given mom Nina (Sandra Oh) "superhero powers" to hear her cries even at a two-story distance, but that extrasensory connection comes at a price. Her intense involvement with the baby has put a strain on her relationship with Miles (Kevin Carroll), her husband. Kit (Johanna Day), her partner in a home-based architectural business is on edge about having to shoulder more than her share of the work and that Nina's personal life will affect their chances of winning a coveted prize..

Satellites incorporates some of Diana Son's own experience with motherhood, moving to Brooklyn and long inability to follow up her first justly praised play, Stop Kiss, with another. But it's by no means a stage memoir. The idea was reputedly seeded by a nudge from Son's friend, actress Sandra Oh, to get her back on the playwriting track. Its title is probably intended as symbol for all the people and issues that parenthood sends swirling around each new family unit, especially if that family unit is interracial--as Mark Wendland's technically drop-dead moving set is a distracting metaphor for the way urban life calls for constant adjustments to change.

Son's long awaited followup to Stop Kiss, which also premiered at the Public Theater where it extended an unprecedented three times, confirms her talent for smartly observed dramas about modern urban life. Sandra Oh, who since her appearance in Stop Kiss has become well known to small and big screen audiences via Grey's Anatomy and Sideways, was available to play Nina -- as was another Stop Kiss cast member, Kevin Carroll. The key "satellites" circling these charismatic actors are Johanna Day as Nina's business partner Kit, Ron Cephas Jones as their new neighbor Reggie and Satya Lee as what appears to be a dream Nanny (good with the baby and she makes great sea weed soup!).

Son's initial impulse to explore how a baby can get such a powerful hold on a woman's emotions that working somehow becomes something necessary mostly for financial reasons was a good one. To exacerbate this clash between former and current priorities, she packed several other baby and racial identity caused issues into the script.

For starters there's the fact that Nina's being a Korean-American and Miles an African-American, while not previously a problem has stirred up all sort of confusing feelings. Nina is troubled because her all-American upbringing has left her unable to pass on any of her Korean cultural roots on to the child; Miles, who grew up as a much loved adopted son in a white household, finds that his uncertainty about his biological heritage makes him unable to connect to the baby.

As if the couple didn't have enough going on, someone throws a rock through their expensive living room window thereby exploding their dream of living happily ever after in an inter-racial, economically mixed neighborhood. The broken window also brings on Reggie, the street smart black neighbor who challenges Miles sense of belonging in the world he's lived in.

But wait, there's more.

Miles' all air and no substance bachelor brother Eric (Clarke Thorell) arrives from one of his many long absences in some foreign land to insinuate himself into their life and to sweet talk Miles into starting a neighborhood business, even though Nina is dead set against it. Filling that issues grab bag to the brim, Eric's brotherly love isn't all it appears to be the tension between Nina and Kit mounts and, to top it all off, it turns out that much to Nina's dismay, the Korean Nanny may be seasoning her fine care giving with her own brand of prejudice.

Son knows how to write warm, very human characters and crisp, incisive dialogue. The cast ably portrays the "satellite" characters and the problem attitudes they represent are valid and possibly even interesting enough for several other plays. But this all-in-one approach and with director Michael Greif just standing back to let the rocks fly and unleashed resentments explode, this all feels a bit too much like a Brooklyn brownstone variation of the film Crash or an introductory college course entitled "Identity and the Modern Multi-Racial Family."

I liked Nina and Miles, but I wish Ms. Son had not felt compelled to toss quite so many real and metaphorical rocks at them. It might have made the end of their urban saga less forced and unconvincing.

Playwright: Diana Son
Directed by Michael Greif
Cast: Kevin Carroll (Miles), Johanna Day (Kit), Ron Cephas Jones (Reggie), Satya Lee (Mrs. Chae) , Sandra Oh (Nina), Clarke Thorel (Walter, an occasionally seen but never heard tenant)
Set Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Miranda Hoffman
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Composer: Michael Friedman
Sound Design: Walter Trarbach & Tony Smolenski IV
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
Public Theater / Martinson Hall, 425 Lafayette Street, 212/239-6200
From 5/30/06 to 7/02/06; opening 6/18/06.
Tuesday @ 7pm, Wednesday - Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 2pm & 7pm
Tickets, $50.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 17th press performance performance

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