When is a hero not a hero? That's one of the questions Luis Alfaro starts to answer in Hero. Alfaro's earnest, fluidly poetic, and comedic writing is a tonic devoutly to be wished and hugely welcome on our local boards. Hero (Jin Suh, alternating with Justin Huen), recently arrived home from the Iraq conflict, is being fêted by his mother but is disabused of any false pride by his sharp-tongued brother, Junior (Rodney To, alternating with Kennedy Kabasares), who is vocally anti-war, especially this one, even though he's been happily making hay with Hero's girlfriend, Destiny (the chunkily fabulous Carla Jimenez), during his brother's absence. Hero, isolating himself from the family, feels like a fake because his heroic act was to fall off a truck before he had a chance to fight. Uncle (Dana Lee, alternating with Ernesto Miyares) is dubious about the Iraq conflict; his war, Vietnam, was a real war, and nobody gave him any medals. Mom (Natsuko Ohama, alternating with Marlene Forté), weary of the boredom of her job at the Water Company, is just glad her son is back home where he belongs. This could easily be any American family. The playwright has chosen two specific hyphenates for his double cast: Asian Americans and Latin Americans. The culture of war and the families affected by it would seem universal; seeing both casts might be an interesting study (this reviewer saw only one), but the story would resonate regardless of race, color, or creed. The performances are brilliant; Alfaro's writing is crisp, literate, and funny; Jon Lawrence Rivera's direction is stunningly on key; John H. Binkley's set design, Jeremy Pivnick's lighting design, Bob Blackburn's sound design, Ron Saito's projections, and Chelsee Venis' costumes contribute to a highly entertaining and thought-provoking production.
Presented by Playwrights' Arena at Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 & 7 p.m. Nov. 10-Dec. 16. (213) 627-4473. www.playwrightsarena.org.