Promising ‘Everything,’ Deft Comedy Delivers Most of It
A play titled “The Theory of Everything” should think big and mess with a lot ofideas. In its easygoing way, Prince Gomolvilas’ comedy is pleased to comply. Although confined to the rooftop of a Las Vegas wedding chapel, the characters--UFO watchers of varying Asian American extraction, waiting for a sign--reflect on the ineffables: love, faith, flunking out of law school, finding a way home.
Not yet 30, this San Francisco-based Thai American writer is developing a strong voice.
The world premiere is a two-continent affair. The East West Players production (of a play commissioned originally by South Coast Repertory) was co-produced by the Singapore Repertory Theatre, and the L.A. engagement follows a successful run in Singapore. Director Tim Dang’s ensemble, featuring two Singapore-based actors, has by now a nice head start on the material.
We’re introduced first to Patty (Emily Kuroda), 39 and a UFO whiz, who speaks to the audience. (Everyone eventually has a say.) Having emigrated from Thailand to America as a teenager, she married a Japanese American, Hiro (Ken Narasaki), who has little taste for Vegas and longs for his homeland.
Patty’s mother, May (terrific Marilyn Tokuda), acts as a kind of rooftop village elder, observing much and speaking little. A Filipino immigrant, Shimmy (Melody Butiu), has a closeted 21-year-old son Gilbert (Kennedy Kabasares), whose friend, Chinese American Lana (Michelle Chong), has been dumped by her law school and her boyfriend, successively. Lana’s brother Nef (Brendon Marc Fernandez) is the object of Gilbert’s unspoken affection. Leaving that closet is not easy for the character, who announces early on to Lana that he’s changing his name to “Ibuprofen.”
The play’s goofy comic streak samples such pop icons as “The Wizard of Oz” (perhaps we should shelve that one for a while), “Evita” and inevitably, “The X-Files.”
Dang’s staging benefits enormously from the set design of Victoria Petrovich, dominated by seven huge depictions of playing cards hanging above the chapel rooftop--fallout, in effect, from some cosmic shuffle of the deck. The staging is straightforward enough, though Dang tends to augment the dialogue with visual bits or, at the coda, obvious musical underscoring. The shtickiness is at odds with the material’s better deadpan instincts.
Much of the acting, though, is lovely. Kuroda and Narasaki share a powerfully affecting separation-in-the-making scene. Tokuda’s May is a sardonic delight (and that laugh--priceless!). Playing against type and above her age range, Butiu proves her skill anew. Chong’s comically mopey quality is welcome. Fernandez hasn’t much to play in Nef but manages it well enough.
Gomolvilas, whose earlier play “Big Hunk O’ Burnin’ Love” was seen two years ago at East West, cannot always resist patness. Sometimes the banter is coy. (Kabasares in particular has an achingly self-aware way of delivering wisecracks.) But this is a comedy about characters first and ethnicity second. Though it’s half-crazy to separate those two concepts--although America wouldn’t be America without millions straining to try--"The Theory of Everything” remains easy-breathing about this notion of who any of us really are and what might make us feel welcome.
The play could in fact use 10 or 15 more minutes unrelated to epiphanies and showcase monologues. Wanting more: there’s another good sign.
* “The Theory of Everything,” East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A. Thursdays through Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. No performance 2 p.m. today or 8 p.m. Nov. 23. Ends Dec. 3. $20 to $30. $15 rush tickets one hour before show time. (800) 233-3123. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
Melody Butiu: Shimmy
Michelle Chong: Lana
Brendon Marc Fernandez: Nef
Kennedy Kabasares: Gilbert
Emily Kuroda: Patty
Ken Narasaki: Hiro
Marilyn Tokuda: May
Written by Prince Gomolvilas. Directed by Tim Dang. Scenic design by Victoria Petrovich. Costumes by Joyce Kim Lee. Lighting by Jose Lopez. Sound by Joel Iwataki. Production stage manager Ricardo Figueroa.