May 10, 2008
By Tom Williams
“Why did I want so little? Where did I learn to want so little for myself?” --Boo-Seng
Silk Road Theatre Project often finds new playwrights with unique points of view. There latest find, Julia Cho, is a talent. Here Durango is a family road trip drama about the Lee family. This family is struggling with shameful secrets. The motherless family can’t communicate with each other as each retreats into their own isolation. From the haunting country song that starts the action, written by Julia Cho and sung by Dawen Wang, the mood of sadness looms.
We see Boo-Seng (Joseph Anthony Foronda), a bitter self-loathing man unhappy with his life. He has just been downsized after 20 years in a job he disliked. The stoic father decides to take a road trip to Durango where years ago he visited with his wife shortly after their arrival from Korea. Boo-Seng is the old school tough father whose authoritarian manner rules the family. He insists that his two sons accompany him. Isaac (Dawen Wang) is the son who can’t seem to find is niche in life. Boo-Seng set him up with a med school interview in Hawaii. Jimmy (Erik Kaiko) is the high school aged golden boy who excels at everything he does. He is a city champion swimmer, scholar and artist.
The Lee’s drive from Arizona to Durango, Colorado. We witness a generation gap that has Boo-Seng in full control while the sons simply tolerate his demanding manner. At a motel, we see Isaac and Jimmy attempting to communicate their angst, their desires, and their shameful secrets. Isaac escapes into his music, Jimmy draws comic strip superheroes. Boo-Seng broods and is unable to communicate with his sons.
Durang deals with the pain of isolation and regret each Lee family experiences as they hold on to their shame. Cho’s script features several monologues that not only develop the speaker’s character but two speeches, each given by one of the sons, are in the words of the long deceased mother. Jimmy’s escape fantasy is played out as the Red Angel by hunk Austin Campion. We also witness Boo-Seng’s self-reflection during a grief stricken breakdown by the motel’s pool. Issac confesses to Jimmy that he didn’t go to his med school interview in Hawaii.
There is a suspense element and a realistic and plausible resolution that is satisfying without resorting to hooky sharing of their secrets and each forgiving the other scenario seen in countless TV scripts. During the road trip, tempers flare as secrets break open. The family unity is threatened. Old memories and unhealed wounds fuel the family dynamic. Cho offers an insightful look into a dysfunctional family’s struggle to communicate with one another. Peopled with empathetic characters and fine acting, Durango is a fresh take on the family road trip. I liked this play, especially Erik Kaiko’s Jimmy and Dawen Wang’s Isaac. Julia Cho is a talented playwright with a new voice. She sure can write male characters. This one’s worth a look.