BWW Review: FOOD FOR THOUGHT: AUBERGINE at Everyman Theatre
Aubergine, by American playwright and television writer of Korean descent, Julia Cho, is a didactic play, heavy on pathos, but not without humor, that finds its origins in Cho's own life, specifically, the death of her father. Similarly in this play, protagonist Ray, played by Tony Nam, cares for his dying father (Glenn Kubota) at home, with the help of nurse Lucien (Jefferson A. Russell), girlfriend Cornelia (Eunice Bae) and his Uncle (Song Kim).
There is another character, quite at the center of the play, who never speaks a word of dialogue, but whose presence is key to the lessons to be learned and the drama which unfolds: namely, food. Appearing in the first and final scenes as thematic bookends is Everyman company member, Megan Anderson, for whom a pastrami sandwich is truly "heart" cuisine.
Ray happens to be a chef, having inherited his grandmother's talent for cooking, but appears to be at a career crossroads, though that is never fully explained. His initial interaction with Cornelia give us a sense that Ray is somewhat of a man-child, not yet ready to wield "the instruments" of adulthood, though the spectre of his father's impending death seems the catalyst to launch him into full-fledged maturity.
Cho provides each character with a monologue that, in each case, provides some exposition, both in terms of plot and theme, and though well written, would prefer to be witness these key points via stage action rather than have them narrated, i.e. don't say it, show it...but this is why I consider this to be a work where the message is more important than the movement that delivers you from curtain to curtain.
And the message? Sometimes food isn't about the dish itself, it's about who prepared it, why they made it, and how they presented it. The human touch, as seen in Lucien's pride in presenting his aubergine (much better sounding than "an eggplant") to Ray, is what can make food stay in our memory, long after the taste has left our mouths. Food is family, tradition, love. Thus endedth the lesson.
In learning this lesson, Ray finds his way, both in his love life and his career. It's a lot to ask of a bowl of soup, but again, it's not about the vegetables or the broth, it's about coming to grips with loss, loss of a loved one, and the loss that stares at us in the mirror every day.
Kudos to the Everyman Theatre which joined forces with the Olney Theatre Center to bring this bittersweet work to the stage. Despite some technical issues (portions of the dialogue, primarily discourse between Cornelia and Uncle, are in Korean with English subtitles, subtitles that occasionally refused to disappear from the provided screen), this fine ensemble cast delivered a delicious and memorable meal dramatis to a very appreciative audience.
Aubergine runs now through April 15th, Tickets are $10-$65 and are on sale online at everymantheatre.org, by phone at 410-752-2208 or at the Everyman box office at 315 W. Fayette Street in downtown Baltimore.