Review Roundup: ENDLINGS at New York Theatre Workshop - What Did the Critics Think?

By: Mar. 10, 2020
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Endlings has officially opened at New York Theatre Workshop! It plays a limited run through Sunday, March 29, 2020.

On the Korean island of Man-Jae, three elderly haenyeos-sea women-spend their dying days diving into the ocean to harvest seafood. Across the globe on the island of Manhattan, a Korean-Canadian playwright, twice an immigrant, spends her days wrestling with the expectation that she write "authentic" stories about her identity. This "fascinating, audacious and deftly satirical" new play by Celine Song, directed by Sammi Cannold, questions what we inherit and challenges who dictates the terms.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Jesse Green, The New York Times: The design team - especially Jason Sherwood (set) and Linda Cho (costume) - involved us with the turtleneck turtleneck and gave a vignette underneath the water to announce the dub unt hanioers swim as if to appear in the aquarium. Pretty cool it can be, it takes us further from the truth of both stories; The pure effort of the song in the end eventually gives the drama a bad situation of a dramatic turning. This is a shame, because Hannios, whose traditional hegemonic role in the center of a marital society has gone undetected, could be more than a personal essay request. As it is, they are mostly a subject in search of a theme - a theme playwright never yields to a sea of a??a??perseverance that simply does not give up its riches.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: The most powerful sequences take place at the seaside, in set designer Jason Sherwood's evocation of a rocky Korean island. Director Sammi Cannold has stage management pop in to spritz extra fog into the air when necessary, and the spirited silliness of this actually emphasizes the brutality of their surroundings, the way the cold sea is at their backs the moment the tech crew leaves. Han Sol (Wai Ching Ho), Go Min (Emily Kuroda) and Sook Ja all go about their work-filled day, clambering in and out of wetsuits, cursing liberally and generally disabusing us of any cute-old-lady stereotypes we might have had. They're strong and vital and so poor, Sook Ja says, that they're the "dirt eaters." The trio-each one is a comic dynamo-is thrillingly good at letting us see the little fear that sits underneath their large courage; every moment we spend with them is gold.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Watching these moments of "Endlings," I was reminded of the play "Seascape." If ever Albee had written for children's theater, it might have been something like Song's play. This isn't a backhanded compliment. Who wouldn't want to see a children's play written by Albee? With help from her design team, director Sammi Cannold pulls out all the stops to keep our attention riveted. In addition to the Esther Williams effects, there's a miniature Manhattan skyline for the New York segments of "Endlings," as well as a play-within-a-play-within-a-play that defines the theater of the silly.

Austin Yang, New York Theatre Guide: Juggling turtle pimps and keen POC sensitivities, Song penned Endlings to be richly complex and all-encompassing, rivaling the metaphors even in similar works playing across town. Thanks to director Sammi Cannold's bold and investigative eye, and stellar, authentic performances by the entire cast, it also makes sense. The production also features an ambitiously aquatic set from Jason Sherwood, costumes by Linda Cho, and Bradley King's colorful lights that have become a subtle trademark of his collaboration with Cannold.

Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: But don't let that whimsy deceive you. Endlings is clever and self-aware, in on its own joke, but it's also deeply serious. It mocks the modern serious-downtown-theater complex even as it knows it's a part of it; it admires the haenyeo even as it recognizes what a grueling life they lead; it celebrates family and tradition even as it wrestles with an immigrant's guilt over the sacrifices that came before.

David Hurst, Talkin' Broadway: Both plays pose existential questions about how we should live, and, since this is ultimately a play about real estate, where we should live. But you'll be thinking about Song's ocean-diving women long after you've stopped worrying about whether her integrity's intact. What a shame she didn't dig a little deeper into the play that actually means something.

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