3 out of 5 stars
Theatreworks’ “Aubergine” delights the senses by associating memory with food, but it is difficult to overlook the failure of some performances and questionable character placement.
“Aubergine,” written by Julia Cho, is making its Colorado debut from Feb. 2-19 in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant theater at the Ent Center, with the smell of the Colorado based American Seoul Food truck waiting to serve hungry theater goers outside.
This play, with the help of food and melancholy, shows the final days of a sick father (Michael Ching) being tended to by his dutiful chef son Ray (Sean Park). Although it seems the man is alone with his father, since his mother died when he was a young boy, he is gradually accompanied by ex-girlfriend Cornelia (Jin Park), a surprisingly sympathetic hospice nurse Lucien (Don Randle) and a long-lost uncle (Song Kim). In between the sorrowful scenes of Ray caring for his father, the play cuts to various monologues of its characters describing their fondest memories of food.
This play is certainly unlike any other I’ve seen. The theatre was completely transformed from a bare room into a makeshift home/kitchen where the actors used the entirety of the space to their advantage. This unique advantage allowed the audience to interact with the actors in a much more personal way.
When the actors weren’t conversing with each other about the grim subject matter, the intense monologues about the character’s favorite memories of food allowed each actor to shine and offer a unique experience to the audience: the human connection to eating.
The monologues are perhaps the strongest part of the play, as each actor can speak directly to every audience member about their most personal connection to food. Each story ties them to their upbringing and tribulations, each one being brought back to their old life through food.
Although the play masterfully connects the senses to memory in the most human way possible, it does fall flat in certain performances. While Ray is given the daunting task of watching his father die, Sean Park undervalues the emotional response to this situation. It is hard to believe that Ray is seriously concerned about his father and understands the gravity of the situation at times.
The set design of the play is well done, although depending on where you sit, the actors have their back to you, thus reducing the audience’s connection to the scene. This becomes especially troublesome when the scene is important for establishing an emotional connection. For example, Ray had his back to my area for an emotional scene that was important to the story’s development.
This play is worth watching simply for the powerful monologues and emotional connection to food, not to mention the food truck outside during the show.
Photo from entcenterforthearts.org.