Playwright Euijoon Kim has a way to go before he can be compared to David Mamet, but his surly, profanity-driven sojourn through the lives of Generation X Korean-Americans could be subtitled, “Sexual Perversity in Koreatown.” Unfortunately, director Deborah Nishimura’s overriding desire to instill “attitude” in the cast completely obliterates the ensemble’s ability to convey any kind of believable character motivation and proves a disservice to Kim’s predictable but promising premise.
The tone is set by the opening setting, the men’s room of a Koreatown night club. Self-loathing 20-something college grad Eric (John Cho) has no sooner gained use of the much-needed urinal when this male sanctuary is invaded by Karen (Kerri Higuchi), whose bladder cannot wait out the long line cued up at the lady’s room across the hall. Despite the stream of profanity and character annihilation they hurl at each other, they, out of necessity, go about their lengthy business.
It is immediately apparent that Eric and Karen are eventually going to find their way into each other’s hearts, but their primal scream style of communicating is neither functional in terms of Kim’s text nor believable as conversation. This “angst at all costs” dialogue carries over into Eric’s relationships with his friends, colorful gangstah wannabe X Man (Art Chudabala) and straight-arrow RV salesman Jay (Hydo Chang), as well as Karen’s perennial cat-fight friendship with Jackie (Alexis Mao).
Although the actors try hard, they cannot maintain this unnatural, sledge-hammer style of communications, and eventually they are left groping to get the words out or fumbling their lines. But despite Nishimura’s directorial miscues, there are some rough gems to be found within the work.
The play, which was developed at the David Henry Hwang’s Writers Institute, offers a few keen insights into the social and emotional struggles of Asian-Americans who were born in Korea during the ’70s and came to the U.S. as infants.
Through Eric’s relentless pontificating and self-pity, Kim attempts to show a vibrant but embryonic culture struggling to establish its own identity out of the myriad influences that are constantly bombarding it.
Chris Tashima’s awkward multi-level set hinders more than it helps. But Paul James’ evocative, hard driving sound creates a proper mood for the work.