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A CurtainUp Review

by Les Gutman

[T]he starting point was Chay Yew and Euripedes. Chay... asked me if I was interested in adapting Medea as a verse play, told from a Korean-American perspective. . . In a fit of anger, I spewed out a scene from pure frustrations. . . It involved two characters, I was embarrassed to say, named Chinky and Gooky. I soon realized that they were the nucleus for the chorus supporting Jason and M. Another epiphany occurred when I realized that the key dichotomy was not just Asian vs. American, but Wave vs. Particle (drawn on my physics background), and suddenly the still waters of the play started swirling and churning. Then a Wavemaker started talking to me and then things started to flow.
---Sung Rno, in his note in the playbill for wAve
I'm a big fan of program notes from playwrights (and directors) which provide an exegesis of their work. The quote above from playwright Sung Rno's note is offered (with apology for its length) because it is instructive. And we need all the help we can get -- if for no other reason so we can understand this diffuse play's impenetrable problems. Rno may have had epiphanies enroute to finishing the play; unfortunately, the audience does not get to share in them.

On the one hand, we have the putative source material, Euripedes' Medea. Yet Rno has done little with it beyond borrowing the names of his central characters, Jason (Ron Domingo) and M (Michi Barall), and cherry-picking some plot elements (M kills her brother and later her son (both portrayed by Aaron Yoo), Jason betrays her for another woman, here named Marilyn II (Deborah S. Craig) so it is clear she is to represent what the script calls a "genetically reengineered" Marilyn Monroe).

On the other hand, we have the Korean-American experience which, if we are to believe Mr. Rno, consists of little more than having Asian actors portraying a family immersed in a sea of (dated and hackneyed) American pop culture. The "chorus" consists of segments of an idiotic television show hosted by Chinky (Ms. Craig) and Gooky (Paul H. Juhn), send-ups (I suppose) of bad Asian stereotypes fitfully trying to span the East-West divide. And yes Rno should be embarrassed.

The play becomes even more confounding when it strays into the wave/particle gibberish, and when Rno decides to take a stab at writing verse. (He does so only fleetingly.) I would be astonished if Chay Yew is happy to have his name invoked as the inspiration for this play.

One can find little to fault in Will Pomerantz's direction of this piece, beyond the rather questionable decision to undertake it. It is cleanly and inventively staged, and the production elements (simple and straightforward, against a beautifully playful backdrop that separates to reveal an additional playing area beyond, with a full-length wave pool stage left) are excellent. The performances are also quite fine, with the two women (Michi Barall and Deborah Craig) as particular standouts.

But "the play's the thing". And this one is not.

by Sung Rno
Directed by Will Pomerantz

with Michi Barall, Deborah S. Craig, Ron Domingo, Paul Juhn, Patrick McNulty and Aaron Yoo
Set Design: Marsha Ginsberg
Lighting Design: Joel Moritz
Costume Design: Carol Bailey
Sound Design: Nick Borisjuk
Fight Choreographer: Aaron Yoo
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Ma-Yi Theater Company
Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street (Spring/Broome)
Telephone (212) 352-3101
TUES - SAT @7:30, SAT - SUN @2:30; $35
Opening March 21, 2004, closes April 11, 2004
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 3/18/04 performance

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