May 22, 2008
By Venus Zarris
Silk Road Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of Durango succeeds on many levels. The strong script and excellent production makes for a powerful dramatic experience. But there are two elements of playwright Julia Cho’s script that prove extraordinary.
It eloquently depicts the profound dynamic of dysfunctional communication between parent and child. For anyone with parents or children, this may seem like an obvious observation. But what Cho so poignantly illuminates is that often the sacrifices that parents make for the success of their children is their communication of love. If a parent is not verbally communicative it may be easy to read the emotional temperature of their relationships with their children as cold. But a lack of words does not always equal a lack of love. People in general and children in particular tend to take what they have for granted. But if you look at what was given up for your creature comforts and the betterment of your life, the magnitude of your life experience can take on so much more weight. And the evidence of your parents love can be overwhelming.
After being abruptly laid off from a job that he dedicated twenty years of service to, Boo-Seng, brilliantly played by Joseph Anthony Foronda, decides to take his two sons on a road trip from their home in Arizona to Durango, Colorado. Isaac, the older of the two teenagers, is less than thrilled with the thought of so much time in the car with his Dad and younger brother. Jimmy is eager to please and enthusiastic about the chance to connect with his stoic father. But long trips facilitate uncomfortable silence that leads to difficult disclosures. Isaac doesn’t want to go to medical school, despite the strings his father has pulled to get him there. Jimmy is a champion swimmer but quits the team when his attraction for other boys becomes dangerously awkward. Anger is an easier emotion to access than affection, but through this trip, we see that love is most definitely there, albeit hidden deeply beneath the surface.
Late life layoffs, family dysfunction, gay children, and contradictory aspirations are nothing new to theater. But the second extraordinary aspect of ‘Durango’ is the fact that it masterfully depicts these conflicts in the lives of Korean Americans. This is the first play that I have seen that gives an exclusive voice to members of this community. Hearing the similarities, as much as the differences, in our life experiences brings us closer to each other. And telling the stories of other communities dispels the notion that everyone can get what they need from hearing about it happening to the dominant majority. I know how long I have waited, as a gay American, to see myself represented. As it is finally starting to trickle down, the validation of this representation is empowering and exhilarating.
Apart from consistently creating exceptional and entertaining theater, Silk Road Theatre Project, recipient of the 2008 Broadway in Chicago Emerging Theatre Award, continually gives voices to the underrepresented communities that so beautifully accentuate and profoundly strengthen the fabric of our collective American experience. Durango is their latest theatrical gift that emancipates us from seeing America from one point of view. (***)