The specter of impending death hangs over “Aubergine,” now on stage at South Coast Repertory, but the overall ambiance of the production centers more on the fervent appreciation of food.
Julia Cho’s cross-cultural seriocomic story focuses on Ray, a young chef determined to make his dying father’s last meal a tasty one. He’s a second-generation Korean American who doesn’t speak Korean. He must communicate with his visiting uncle from Seoul who’s stymied by English.
Fortunately, his sometimes girlfriend is fluent in both languages, and her interventions guide both factions as they strive for closure and communication — aided, for the audience, by screened translations. It’s a deceptively complex plot painstakingly laid out by director Lisa Peterson, who’s returning to SCR after staging the lively “Culture Clash” earlier this year.
Jinn S. Kim brings an aura of reality to the central role of Ray, who’s striving to excel in an area for which his father had no earthly use — food preparation. Kim’s frustrations over his confusing relationship with the elderly man are splendidly depicted.
Offering reluctant assistance while smarting over Ray’s indifference is the lovely Cornelia, sensitively played by Jully Lee. She’s thrust into the role of interpreter when Ray’s uncle, friskily enacted by Bruce Baek, arrives from Korea to be with his ailing brother.
Staunch support is provided by Irungu Mutu as a male nurse from the hospital supervising the patient’s home care.
Sab Shimono as the dying father spends most of the play being seen, in bed, but not heard. However, he does have a feisty flashback scene and a contemplative post-death address to the audience.
Opening the evening in a seemingly superfluous appearance is Joy DeMichelle, rhapsodizing over the sensual gastronomic pleasures of fine dining. She returns in the final scene to illustrate her point.
The most impressive element of the SCR production is Myung Hee Cho’s smoothly-functioning set design, which ebbs and flows to create the proper atmospheric background. Peter Maradudin’s lighting effects and John Gromada’s intricate sound plot also nicely accommodate the action.
Oh, and please forgive the spoiler, though it’s not on the same plane as “Rosebud’s a sled.” To explain the play’s title: an aubergine is an eggplant.
IF YOU GO
Where: South Coast Repertory Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Tuesdays through Sundays at varying curtain times until Nov. 16
Cost: Start at $24
Information: (714) 708-5555; scr.org