May 14, 2008
By Chris Jones
In Julia Cho's "Durango," a well-meaning casual acquaintance asks the central character how to say "take it easy" in Korean. "I don't think there's an expression," comes the reply.
That pretty much sums up this father-and-two-sons drama, which probes the generation gap between a hard-toiling but stubborn Korean immigrant (played by Joseph Anthony Foronda) and his emotionally troubled and thoroughly Americanized sons (played by newcomers Dawen Wang and Erik Kaiko).
Left to their own, mostly troubled, devices after the death of the woman who held the family together, this mostly miserable Arizona trio goes off on a weekend road trip to Durango, Colo., after the family patriarch is summarily laid off by his ungrateful American employer after 20 years of dedicated service. As they toddle down the great American highway in one another's reluctant company, the boys confront the secrets in their lives—one thinks he's gay; one is struggling against the force of parental expectation. Their father, meanwhile, stares in the face of a kind of belated midlife crisis born from his never having learned how to communicate.
That should be enough to reveal that this 2006 play isn't exactly the freshest drama in the world. You get confined quarters, quirky Americana, hidden secrets and, just maybe, some kind of rapprochement. And this is by no means the first play produced by the Silk Road Theatre Company to probe the gap between stereotypically first-generation immigrants, who adhere to the taciturn values of the old country, and their frustrated, whiny children. At times here, it feels as if you're watching a Korean-American take on "Death of a Salesman," even down to the scene in which the kid tells his pop that he ain't worth his father's dreams and won't he please give up on them.
But, you know, these stories wouldn't get such passionate repetition if they weren't grounded in familial truth. And although this play could use a lot more character shading, Cho is a compassionate and interesting young writer able to see the world from more than one side. "Durango" manages to deftly evoke a family where no male really has the words to reach another male. And one does not have to be of Korean heritage to recognize that condition.
Carlos Murillo's production employs some inexperienced actors and, at times, feels both overly elusive and somewhat underpaced. Nonetheless, it features a moving performance from Foronda and a mostly effective and atmospheric staging, even if the geographically diffused script may be more naturally suited to a screenplay than the stage.