Mysterious Skin

The healing luminosity of the novel's prose is largely absent from Prince Gomolvilas' stage version.

The healing luminosity of the prose of Scott Heim’s novel “Mysterious Skin” – an otherwise disturbing study of pedophilia’s legacy – came through in Gregg Araki’s 2004 pic but is largely absent from Prince Gomolvilas’ stage version, at least as performed by East/West Players. The characters may look to the skies for at least psychic escape from their pain, but weak acting and awkward helming by company director Tim Dang keep them resolutely earthbound.

As set up by Heim, the separate journeys of childhood friends prove that parallel lines can intersect. One-time Little League teammates back in Kansas have moved far apart: Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda) is now near-autistic in his effort to make sense of episodes of lost consciousness (was he abducted by aliens?), while Neil (David Huynh) blithely works New York’s mean streets for rental by daddy types.

Unaccountably, Dang has the boys and their acquaintances rush artificially through their lines as if stagehands’ overtime were threatening, while maladroit blocking keeps both Neil and Brian upstaged by secondary figures at key moments.

Things slow down for the climactic reunion/exorcism back home, in a touching monologue effectively delivered by Huynh, but it’s too little and too late to grant much emotional weight to the proceedings.

Of the performers, only Huynh and Elizabeth Liang (as an older woman drawn to Brian by their mutual extraterrestrial close encounters) manage to eke out fully realized characters, though Liang seems fully 15 years too young for her role.

Hunyh, meanwhile, is the victim in a rape scene that could easily have been staged less explicitly with no loss of impact. That the house lights pretentiously come up at the end exposes and exploits the thesp even further, in a heavy-handed act one closer when the evening is in sore need of additional grace.

Mysterious Skin

David Henry Hwang Theater, Los Angeles; 240 seats; $35 top

  • Production: An East/West Players presentation, in association with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and Center for the Pacific Asian Family, of a play in two acts by Prince Gomolvilas, based on the novel by Scott Heim. Directed by Tim Dang.
  • Crew: Sets and projections, Alan E. Muraoka; costumes, Nicholas Hirata; lighting, Jeremy Pivnick; sound, John Zalewski; stage manager, Ondina V. Dominguez. Opened Sept. 15, 2010. Reviewed Sept. 17. Runs through Oct. 10. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.
  • Cast: Neil McCormick David Huynh Brian Lackey Scott Keiji Takeda Benjamin/Martin/Philip/Charlie/Man Marcus Choi Deborah/Margaret/Wendy/Receptionist Christine Corpuz Eric/Christopher Ruffy Landayan Avalyn Friesen Elizabeth Liang