Playwright Julia Cho's family drama about a father and his two sons is, for the most part, a familiar and plodding affair. The normally deft director Chay Yew has done little to enliven the story with his staging of the predictable and wooden script. As the play opens, Boo-Seng Lee (Nelson Mashita) is laid off from his job after more than 20 years. He arrives home devastated, to be greeted by his surly eldest son, Isaac (Jin Suh), and innocent, eager-to-please younger boy, Jimmy (Ryan Cusino). Lee's wife died years ago, and he alone has raised his children.
Naturally, Lee doesn't share his despair with his sons but instead announces that they are taking a trip that weekend, without telling them that they will be going to Durango, Colo., nearly 1,000 miles away. Isaac at first refuses to go, but Jimmy cajoles him, and Isaac finally agrees to depart. What ensues is the family road trip from hell, dramatically coupled with the requisite confessionals of father and sons, which include disappointed expectations, tragic memories, and unspoken secrets. This is classic kitchen-sink drama.
The problem is that the dialogue is fairly clunky and the characters rarely rise above personality stereotypes. The father is demanding and withholding, the eldest son is rebellious and angry, and the younger son is needy and desperate to heal the family. In the meantime, the specter of the dead mother hovers over the family, a symbol of hope and tragedy.
Although the themes and characters in Cho's play are classic, the writing and acting are not. Cho gives the performers very little subtext to work with, and they don't seem to be reaching very hard to find it. Even under Yew's direction, the actors seem to be shouting slogans rather than putting real feelings into their lines. Mashita manages touching moments as the father, and Cusino brings a natural and refreshing insouciance to his role. The one bright spot in the production is the sparkling performance of John Apicella as a rambling retiree who coaxes Lee out of his shell for an instant.
Presented by East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, Union Center for the Arts,
120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.
Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Sep. 19-Oct. 14.
(213) 625-7000. www.eastwestplayers.org.