BWW Reviews: OFFICE HOUR in New Haven

BWW Reviews: OFFICE HOUR in New Haven

Julia Cho's compelling play, Office Hour, is a compelling look at a potential mass shooter on a college campus and how people see others. Adjunct professors Genevieve (Kerry Warren) and David (Jeremy Kahn) talk to Gina (Jackie Chung), their colleague in the English Department of an unnamed college, about Dennis (Daniel Chung), a student who frightens them and all his classmates. David elaborates, "Look at the profile: Painfully socially awkward. Totally isolated. Delusional - he thinks he's a great writer. Obsessed with violence. Oh - and this is the scary part - most likely no history of documented mental illness. And he's probably committed zero crimes. He could just waltz into Walmart and arm himself to the teeth."

It's not as simple as just alerting university officials to this potential threat and have them take care of it. There are legal loopholes, such as his age. As an adult, Dennis would have to seek help voluntarily. Fat chance that would happen. But they feel that since Gina and Dennis are both Korean-American, their common ethnic background would be conducive to discussing his repelling everyone with his gruesome writings. That's not so easy because Dennis hides his face behind dark sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a hoodie. Gina explains that his presence during her office hour counts as 25 percent of his grade, and she insists that he talk.

When Dennis finally talks, what comes out is frightening. No, he is not planning to kill people, even though he owns guns, two of which are in his backpack. He loathes himself and he is convinced that everyone hates him as well. He carries weapons to defend himself from everyone who has rejected him, and says he finds it relaxing to go to the shooting range once or twice a week. Yikes! Nevertheless, their conversation brings out some surprises. Gina is empathetic and idealistic, even as she becomes increasingly alarmed by him. She envisions scenarios of fatal shootings. (Warning: there are recorded shooting sounds in the play.)

Cho wrote this play partly to digest the shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, but she explores themes such as the courage to be unlikeable and to confront fear as well as prejudice, stereotypes, mental illness, and misogyny. And, of course, the fears of massacres are not limited to schools because they occur at churches, at concert halls, at cinemas, and in the streets. These are dangerous times and any place is a potential target. There is no clean end to this haunting play.

The performances by the entire cast were superb, but the standouts were the leads Daniel Chung and Jackie Chung, who captured the nuances of their characters' feelings. Director Lisa Peterson did a fabulous job in making Cho's complex story cohesive. Matt Saunders's set design depicted the soulless adjunct professors' communal office as a perfect background for the action in the play. An exceptional touch was the clock on the drab grey wall, which went both forward and backward in time during the various scenarios of gun violence. Scott Zielinski's lighting design was exceptionally effective in creating the right tension at the right moments. Claire Zoghb's program cover depicts the gap in status between Gina and Dennis and the way they see themselves. It pulls you into the story. The angle of the show's title on the cover reinforces the idea that people don't always get things straight when it comes to judging others.

Office Hour is a co-production with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and runs through February 11 at the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. For tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit The Long Wharf Theatre partnered with Yale-New Haven Health to raise awareness of mental health issues and with the Sandy Hook Promise to protect schools and communities by learning the signs of potential gun violence in individuals and to be more inclusive of people who may feel socially isolated. For more information about the Sandy Hook Promise, visit

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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