Durango: Five Stars! / by R. Sheth

May 15, 2008
By Christopher Piatt

Five Stars!

When Boo, the widowed Korean immigrant father of two first-generation American teens, gets laid off only a few years before retirement, he packs his boys into the car and takes them on a road trip. One son is a confused drifter unsure about entering med school; the other, a star swimmer who doesn’t actually enjoy swimming. Riddled with playwriting clichés (did we mention athlete son secretly longs to illustrate comic books and waxes nonstop about superhero logic?), Julia Cho’s 2006 chamber drama promises only the predictable. And yet by the end of Murillo’s austere Chicago premiere, the ache you feel proves Cho has tapped into something else entirely: the universal.

The first 20 minutes of Durango give you no fair warning of what’s coming. But then in a flashback sequence in which Foronda—playing a non-huckster Willy Loman in the most mature, textured performance so far this year—gradually realizes his much younger yuppie coworker is giving him the boot, a scene that’s no less painful than watching your dad get laid off, Durango seizes its audience and scarcely releases it. Using yet another of its fresh, where-did-they-find-these-people casts, Silk Road offers a drama that’s timeless in its assessments of families but frighteningly timely in its look at American economics.

Like the Hypocrites’ current buzz-heavy Our Town, this production uses skeletal but precise staging and only a few flourishing design surprises to reap huge emotional rewards, even in the face of Cho and Murillo’s final discordant moments. If only every theater in town had the nerve to try an ending like this once in a while.