In Julia Cho’s Aubergine, a Korean-American chef deals with his dying father. Cho uses food as the cornerstone for a sensitive though meandering meditation on the difficulties of family, communication, and coming to terms with one’s life in this entry in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
Ray (Tony Nam) had a difficult upbringing, mostly by his strict immigrant father serving as a single parent. Ray became a chef, even though to Ray’s Father (Glenn Kubota) eating is just a necessary chore and cooking is a low-class occupation unworthy of a man. The two had hardly spoken for many years until Ray is notified that his father’s liver disease has reached a point where his home must serve as an informal hospice.
Lack of communication between loved ones is a theme Cho explored in The Language Archive , and she returns to explore it again here. Ray’s Father is unable or unwilling to eat or talk. Ray is unable to speak to his Korean Uncle (Song Kim), forcing him to press his reluctant estranged girlfriend Cornelia (Eunice Bae) into translating services.
The Uncle believes that the key to saving the life of Ray’s Father is preparation of a special soup. Ray goes through the motions of the futile exercise, encouraged by warm-hearted visiting nurse Lucien (Jefferson A. Russell) that the act might benefit Ray if not his Father.
Food as a special, even magical source of family bonding and comfort is explored through individual monologues by the play’s characters about their favorite meals. The first, by minor character Diane (Megan Anderson), discusses how the search for some exquisite gastronomic experience united her with her husband and a more mundane treat served as a defining memory of her own father.
Julia Cho is a talented playwright writes clever dialogue that includes both serious philosophical discourses and charming humor. Some of the funniest moments arise from the use of projected English supertitles of Korean dialogue between the Uncle and Cornelia (just some of the projections adroitly provided by Zachary Borovay).
Much of the play’s charms will depend upon the willingness of the audience to adapt to the subtle rhythms of the play. The story is light on plot, serving more as a vehicle for Ray’s anguish and coming to terms with his feelings. An early flashback scene with Ray and his Father fighting over the value of a cooking knife offers unrealized hope to the audience that more such scenes might follow to better illustrate their complicated relationship.
The play is more successful with emotion than logic. Ray’s process and lessons learned don’t easily flow from the events and stories told during the play. In fact, the audience applauded a seeming end to the play that would have been more honest and touching. The playwright adds a couple of anticlimactic “feel good” scenes at the end, one involving some magical realism about Ray’s understanding of food.
At Olney Theatre Center
closes March 4, 2018
Details and tickets
At Everyman Theatre
Opens March 14, 2018
Details and tickets——–
Aubergine benefits from a terrific cast under the sensitive direction of Vincent M. Lancisi, Artistic Director of Everyman Theatre where the play will transfer in March. Eunice Bae adds a welcome jolt of energy as the strong yet understanding Cornelia. Song Kim gives a well-balanced portrayal of the blend of feeling a man can have for a very different brother. Jefferson A. Russell makes Lucien the type of nurse we all would wish for and conveys some of the playwright’s philosophical aphorisms with more depth than they have on paper.
Aubergine has many food metaphors, so perhaps the play can best be described as a soup with a skillfully seasoned, delicate broth. The chosen ingredients may not help the dish develop the intended complexity and depth of flavor. Nonetheless, Olney Theatre Center’s production of Aubergine is a flavorful meal for audience seeking a sensitive exploration of the challenges of accepting loved ones during life and afterwards.
Aubergine by Julia Cho. Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi. Featuring Megan Anderson, Eunice Bae, Song Kim, Glenn Kubota, Tony Nam, and Jeffrey A. Russell. Scenic Designer: Misha Kachman. Costume Designer: Ivania Stack. Lighting Designer: Harold F. Burgess II. Projection Designer: Zachary Borovay. Dialect Coach: Zach Campion. New York Casting: Pat McCorkle and Katja Zarolinski. Production Stage Manager: Cat Wallis. Director of Production: Dennis A. Blackledge. Senior Associate Artistic Director: Jason King Jones. Presented by The Olney Theatre Center. Co-produced with Everyman Theatre. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.