BWW Review: Carla Ching's NOMAD MOTEL Explores Parent/Child Sacrifices and Expectations
When the audience enters Atlantic Theater's Stage 2 for Carla Ching's Nomad Motel, presented as part of their New Play Development program, there's a very familiar type of character already hard at work on stage; a quiet young man, seriously concentrating on composing music with his electric guitar.
As created by Ching, he is 17-year-old Mason (Christopher Larkin), whose musical ambitions are blessed with the convenience of being brought up in a wealthy Orange County household. (The playwright's script describes a lavish setting which, in director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar's modest production, is not attempted by set designer Yu-Hsuan Chen.) His widowed father, James (Andrew Pang), absent most of the time, keeps in touch through Skype calls as he earns money in Hong Kong in the dangerous profession of collecting on debts for loan sharks.
Scoffing at his music ambitions, James has dreams of his son attending Harvard and starting a career in finance. Aside from sending money for living expenses, he rewards him financially for good grades and encourages him to develop a warrior instinct with fencing training.
Meanwhile, in an Anaheim motel, Mason's schoolmate Alix (Molly Griggs) dreams of going to college to study landscape architecture but struggles to keep her grades up while waitressing after school. Her mother Fiona (Samantha Mathis), trying to dig her way up from a bad marriage and a stalled acting career, is desperately trying to save her family's house from foreclosure while providing for three children. (We never see the younger two.)
A school assignment brings Mason and Alix together, and issues crop up regarding his inability to write a good personal essay for his college applications and her desire to flee to New York. Alix's ex-boyfriend Oscar (Ian Duff) offers her a temporary roof and even suggests they go to New York together, but it's more of a ploy to get her into bed.
Spread a bit thin through two acts, there's nevertheless plenty of good writing in Nomad Motel and the cast is fine. But there's also a cliched metaphor involving Mason caring for a wounded bird until it's able to fly, and an over-the-top father/son sword fight climax.
At this point in development, Nomad Motel comes off as a study in parent/child relationships in need of a firm dramatic arc.