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LA Theater Review

A Book by its Cover

Playwright Damon Chua's world premiere highlights the collision of cultural and nationalistic allegiances found within an extended family. Millie Wu, a third-generation Chinese-American writer married to a Caucasian husband, is struggling to complete a book detailing the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law signed by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882, which essentially suspended Chinese immigration until its repeal in late 1943. Her attempts to contact distant relatives in China for research purposes connects her with a cousin, Pui Mun, whose own husband is attempting to gather capital for an online gaming business venture. Millie's book winds up as less than flattering to both her Chinese relatives and their home country. The newly established familial ties are nearly ruined as she and her husband, Greg, feel the effects of the sliding American economy while her cousin's fortunes take an upward turn for the better.

Chua's script is at times somewhat audacious given the scope of story, travel, and time covered during a scant 85-minute one-act, but his inventive use of narration, flashback, and even rewound scenes covers any rough patches. And this structure allows director Kevin Cochran and a uniformly excellent cast of five to shine. As Millie, Janet Song does a fine job as she realizes that her heritage is more than just a series of surveys and statistics. Jesse Sharp portrays Greg as a sturdy rock of support and encouragement. Meanwhile, Kim Chueh and Joon Lee, appearing respectively as Millie's cousin and her entrepreneurial spouse, do a remarkable job with their dramatic arcs while being required to switch between accented and unaccented English, depending on whether speaking to outsiders or within their own surroundings.

Rounding out this quintet is David Allen Jones in an exquisitely understated performance as the Narrator. Jones flawlessly handles at least a dozen different characters with a dry wit and genuine sense of concern for what he is witnessing and relaying to the audience. In particular, his eleventh-hour delivery of an old Chinese fable is a stand-alone moment of sheer artistry.

Presented by Grove Theater Center at GTC Burbank, 1111-b W. Olive Ave., Burbank. June 25–July 23. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (818) 528-6622. www.gtc.org.  


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