Recently The La Jolla Playhouse presented playwright Hansol Jung’s “Wild Goose Dreams”. It played to relatively positive reviews. Yours truly was not a fan.
Another of her plays “Cardboard Piano” now in a West Coast Premiere on stage at Diversionary Theatre in City Heights through Feb. 25th is so much more to my liking. The play and the production under the astute direction of Jacole Kitchen bring about a partial triumph over love and hate, reconciliation, acceptance and recovery.
In “Dreams”, the South Korean native focuses in on a North Korean defector who left her family behind and only through the wonders of the Internet, found romance with a South Korean father whose family now lives in the U.S. The play pivots between North and South Korea.
“Cardboard Piano” takes place in Northern Uganda where teenagers Chris (Kate Rose Reynolds), whose father is an American Christian missionary and Adiel, a native Ugandan, (Andréa Agosto) are in love.
They are preparing to recite their wedding vows and get out of dodge to settle in Tunisia. Same sex marriage is against the law in Uganda and the girls, after their secret ceremony, plan to leave. Outside their window a civil war rages.
|Kate Rose Retnolds and Andrea Agosto|
The two dance to the music of “Unchained Melody” and prepare to gather their things when a young Ugandan rebel, thirteen- year old Pika (John Wells III) falls into the room and passes out. They tie him before tending to his wounds (his ear was severed). The two girls agree, “We have to escape this place, (metaphorically) this prison.”
To calm his nerves and rebuff Pika’s remorse at not being a good person worthy of having a good soul, Chris tells him a little story of how she always wanted a piano. Knowing that her parents couldn’t afford a real one, her father made her a cardboard one of cereal boxes. It so angered the child that she tore it to shreds.
Soon after she found the piano in her father’s study all pieced together. “Every time we break something, it’s OK as long as we fix it. And I did, so it’s ok.” Pika: “I do not know how to fix my soul.” This story will come back to haunt Pika /Paul, but no spoilers here.
Now properly bandaged and successfully hiding Pika from one of the rebel soldiers (Wrekless Watson) who came looking for him, the girls are so relieved that they kiss for relief in celebration of their accomplishment.
|Andrea Agosto and John Wells III|
Seeing this Pika, who had returned to the scene of his rescue, is witness to this wrongful act and shoots at the girls while making a getaway. “What were you, you were doing like a man and his wife.”
Fast forward fifteen years and Chris has returned to the Mission to burry her father’s ashes on the hallowed grounds around the church. Inside Paul (Wrekless Watson III) the new pastor, is rehearsing his sermon in front of his wife of two years, Ruth (Andréa Acosta) in the now fixed up chapel her parents built.
|Wrekless Watson and Andrea Agosto|
Ruth and Paul go back and forth about his sermon on forgiveness, neighbors helping neighbors and zeroing in on just who their neighbors might be. The discussion volleys take on new meaning when Ruth brings up the mention of Francis (John Wells III), a young and frightened congregant who is being banished from the church by Paul because he is a homosexual.
Jung’s play is an eye opener on all fronts but in the main just how closely the characters and attitudes in “Cardboard Piano” mime just what is going on in our country today. Homophobia, hypocrisy in the church by closing eyes to abuse, xenophobia, racism, prejudice, you name it and it’s all there. And like the message in Chris’ story, where is the forgiveness and how do we continue to fix what we perpetuate after the Genie has been let out of the bottle?
|Kate Rose Reynolds|
With strong performances by the talented, and making their debut’s on Diversionary stage, the cast of four in ‘Piano’ forge headlong into these probing issues.
Kate Rose Reynold' Chris has just the right looks, facial expressions and demeanor to make her character as strong as she needs be. As the only white person and as an American, her views reflect the upight and on the other hand, non filtered opinions and accusations. She doesn't let Paul off the hook for his past indescretions, Pastor or not.
Andréa Agosto is beautifully nuanced as both Adiel and Ruth. Her soft spoken and reassuring voice is so lyrical and expressive that one could listen all day. Jennifer Braun Giddings' native and colorful costume in Act II is simply stunning. Agosto wears it well.
Kristin Flores designed an impressive interior in both acts aided by Chris Mueller’s lighting design and Haley Wolf’s sound design. Keeping everything moving as it should Jacob Bruce’s fight choreography is top notch.
Wrekless Johnson serves both his characters well; first as the brutal soldier in Act I but more commanding in his performance as Paul in Act II trying to hide the truth from Chris and then showing the seething anger trying to justify his place in his community.
John Wells III makes a strong impression as Pika in Act I but his role as the young gay man being ostracized from the church is a bit underwritten. Most of the story orbits around the other three and if some of it doesn’t rankle you, you’re in the wrong place.
This gets two thumbs up.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb. 25th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 4545Park Blvd. 92126
Ticket Prices: Start at $15.00