Long Wharf Stage II, New Haven
“Durango,” at Long Wharf’s Stage II, breaks
away from the gate like a high-speed race horse. The fast gallop down the
track—in the early scenes—soon subsides to a trot and finally
to a slow, dragging pace.
Too bad, because the play is off to such a good start. Playwright Julia Cho presents an intriguing trio, residing somewhere in the Southwest—a Korean-born father and his two young sons caught up in a troubled three-way relationship. The mother, who had died several years earlier, hovers over the play like a benevolent ghost.
As the play opens, we learn that the father has just lost his job in the corporate world, a disaster which he hides from his sons. The older son has just returned from Hawaii, where he was scheduled for a medical school interview, a date which he does not keep. And the younger son, a swimming champion of whom his father is proud, has just quit the team and the pursuit which he hates. Dreams are unsatisfied, and the surfaces present little connection to the inner realities.
Each is hiding awkward secrets from the others when the father decides, for his own obscure reasons, to take the family on a trip to Durango, Colorado. Like everything else, the trip proves a failure for these three losers. But gradually, certain truths emerge, while others are merely suggested. There are hints of homosexuality in both generations, longings which are never implemented. Ultimately each makes his compromise with life, in order to survive, and this is the play’s underlying theme.
A depressing drama, but one which does have its compensations. Cho has a gift for dialogue and gets it just right in dealing with the brothers. The exchange between the two is funny, sharp, and thoroughly contemporary. Cho also has a gift for characterization, and all three emerge as sharply-etched and thoroughly believable.
Also on the plus side is the production itself, under Chay Yew’s direction. With its many short scenes—some at home, some on the road--Yew uses sliding panels and simple props to move the story along. Dan Ostling’s set design and Paul Whitaker’s lighting work well.
Above all, the strength of the show lies in the performances. James Yaegashi, as the older brother, gives a powerful portrayal, right on target. And Jon Norman Schneider (as the younger brother) and James Saito (as the father) are both thoroughly convincing in their roles. In supporting roles, Ross Bickell and Jay Sullivan round out an excellent cast.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 22, 2006