Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Two Kids That Blow Sh*t Up – by Carla Ching

Nelson Lee and Julia Cho

By Joe Straw

The details on how I got here, to this theatre, on this night are very sketchy.  Someone invited me.  Who?  I’m not sure.  I had to go back in time, look back at my notes. And on this night everything looked dark, as it usually does, at night. 

Alas, it was a twitter invitation, a bird, and a chirp from a little blue bird. I responded.  Violà!  - Narrator.

Artists at Play presents the world premiere of The Two Kids that Blow Sh*t Up by Carla Ching, directed by Jeremy Lelliott and is now playing at the Lounge Theatre through September 04, 2016 in Hollywood.

The play is a remarkable achievement and an ostentatious work of art by Ms. Ching. It is a grand paean, a work in subtlety and nuance, of taking a moment, a cause, and tracing the cause to its brilliant roots. And, to top that off, it is written in a remarkable voice, one that is unpredictable, dramatic, and funny.   It is a story, albeit a non-linear gaposis, of love and hate between two best friends at various stages in their lives. One doesn’t get many opportunities to see an original work of art where the relationships are pristine and the dialogue laudable.   

Luminously directed by Jeremy Lelliott who manages to capture a significant through line through a very troubling relationship. This production is thoroughly enjoyable from top to bottom. 

Dare I say that there was only one thing missing.  (More on that later.)

What are the things that hold these two characters together?  What are the bonding elements, and the mechanism that keeps this relationship strong?  And, why haven’t they spoken in four years?

Age 38

“Hey, it’s me…” – Diana calling from a cell phone.

Diana (Julia Cho), 38 years old, who doesn’t have to say her name, waits at a bar near the Brooklyn Bridge for Max (Nelson Lee), also 38 years old.  When they finally see each other, both are wearing black, he wears a hoodie, to hide himself, apropos for the time and moment when the darkness covers most of his faults.   

They have things to talks about. 

The problem is that no one is speaking to the other, and they have not spoken to each other for the last four years.  Perhaps they are all talked out.   

Stilted in the moment Max finds it hard to make eye contact, or even express a fugitive grin. Max would just rather flip coasters like a deck of cards not admitting anything while Diana looks on. 

Diana takes her coasters and builds a mansion, (well better than his) proving a point about their relationship.  

“Why are we here?” – Max

Yes, why are we here?  Well to understand the now we have to go back to the past.

Julia Cho and Nelson Lee

Age 9

Maybe they were nine year old when they first met. Snowfall in New York makes for a pristine play space outside an apartment building.  And because they are kids their job is to stay away from under the parents and make a snowman.  

Diana would much rather build a snowwoman, but Max, head jogging like a bobble toy, snarls like that’s the most ridiculous thing he has ever heard. Still, they build together.

“Your name is kinda messed up, Di.” – Max

This doesn’t sit too well with Diana.  She is headstrong and has a mouth on her like a drunken sailor as she curses her parent’s frugality. Image of a ruffled chicken come to mind.  Just 9 years old.

Max says he takes judo.  He’s a yellow belt.  Diana in a game of one up man ship says she’s a green belt.

So now would be a good time for Max to go inside and get some juice. And as he leaves Diana puts breasts on the snowwoman. Max acts like he doesn’t care, or makes out that he doesn’t care when he comes out.  And maybe that’s what brings them together at first.

Diana asks Max why he didn’t bring her juice. (The personalities have made their mark.)

“Have you blown up anything today?” – Diana

Max has already gained a reputation as something else explodes around the house.  And that’s just the start of things blowing up.   

Age 24

“I want Gina.” – Max

Max has fallen in love.  Her name is Gina (not seen).  She is the main clown in a circus show in Atlantic City. Diana takes in this information in stride; his love for her, but one still sees a little disappointment in her eyes.  

Max, as usual, doesn’t have any money, but wants to take Gina out. So, guided by inspiration, Diana takes what few dollars there is between them for gambling money and says they will be having steak by midnight.

Age 15

Fifteen years old and they have a better idea about communicating with each other.  Liking each other a little more, expressing their feeling how they feel about their parents, and about themselves.

“You are crazy.” – Diana

“Is that a bad thing?” – Max

Age 28

“ Number 256.” – Announcer

That’s the number they started on.  Prenuptials arranged, the couples are now called by a numbering system to get married. A cold and heartless announcer counts up as each couple step up to the marriage plate.  Max and Diana are dressed but Max is not getting married on this day.   

Diana nervously wonders if she has got everything.  Her epilepsy medicine, Max gives that a “check”.  Maybe Max doesn’t think marriage, for her, is a good idea, and asks Diana why she loves him. Her response is not definitive,  “that he makes her safe.”

Max sees something in that statement. He knows her far better than she thinks.

“Good guys are not what you choose.” – Max

And while he’s on the subject Max tells Diana that he owes the groom $800.00 and would he do a favor and ask him to forgive the debt.

Diana is really not happy about having to do this on her wedding day.

Age 17

Max has got this harebrained idea of becoming an actor and Diana has all the answers because she’s smarter than him.  No truer words were spoken. Well, at least, that’s what she always thought.

Carla Ching’s play is a work of art, luxuriously fascinating in the manner in which it is presented moving back and forth in time.   In each scene, the audience collects significant bits of information, and then puts the pieces together.  No pun intended but the audience are like members of a bomb squad piecing together fragments of a crime scene, while the characters are blowing things up, mostly their relationship.

For example, after going back and forth in age, we think we know the characters. And, out of the blue, we get a piece of information, at the age of 28, that Diana has epilepsy.  It is said in a casual way, an intimate acknowledgement the characters know about each, and, in another flashback, we find out more how that became intimate.   There are a lot of these moments in this play.

To say more about the play would just be giving the pieces away. At this point you have one day to catch this production, September 4th 2016 being the last day.

Nelson Lee and Julia Cho

Julia Cho (Diana) is excellent in her craft. Cho has a wonderful symmetry in her dramatic manner and style. Diana is a complicated character.  She is strong-willed, forceful, and very smart. Sometime her vocal predilection gets into the way of her intentions, what she really wants but is unable to articulate. She is in love with Max, but love always gets in the way in doing the right thing.  Cho is a marvelous actor with a unique and powerful presence.

Nelson Lee (Max) is solid in his craft. Max is a character who is not really reliable except where his friend is concerned but then again he only shows up when he wants something.  The kind of friend that most people keep at arms length. He does his best to cause havoc, whether it is subtle (the kiss) or instrumental (the theft).  Funny, but he never apologized or even admitted to his misdeeds. Lee has a strong and powerful manner on stage.

The moments in Jeremy Lelliott’s direction are very subtle but it is a solid outing.  One prefers a play with an emotional outpouring; a feeling that one will lose the other in what ever form that takes. It never goes that far, but it could.

The one missing thing on this night, especially after a very robust applause, was a second curtain call.  The work deserved it.  

I loved the Brooklyn Bridge painted on the upstage wall.  It was just the right touch provided by Se Oh, Scenic & Properties Design, to show that we were near Chinatown in New York.

Other members of this magnificent crew are as follows:

Emily Brown-Kucera & Rachel Stivers – Costume Design
Alexander Le Vaillant Freer – Lighting Design
Jesse Mandapat – Sound Design
Andrew Knight – Dramaturg
Donna Eshelman – Movement Specialist
Jonathan Castanien – Stage Manager

This show had a very short run and deserves a longer run.

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves the Brooklyn Bridge!

The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, California

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