Fascinating Experience as East West Players Bare Mysterious Skin
by Prince Gomolvilas
based on the novel by Scott Heim
directed by Tim Dang
East West Players
through October 10
Provocative, imaginative material about sexual abuse, despite its uneasy and controversial nature, can fascinate, and this Los Angeles premiere Mysterious Skin @ East West Players begs to be seen.
Dividing scenes between fantasy and reality, in Act I on stage right we see Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda), obsessed with nightmares of 'being abducted by aliens' as an eight year-old, and on stage left, another young man of similar age, who has become a full-fledged male hustler: Neil (played by David Huynh). In this half the theory of alien abduction is given equal focus to the issue of prostitution, but the two elements are distinctly unrelated. They do not intersect until Act II, when the two boys meet and see that they have something in common from the past which has irrevocably damaged their lives.
The cast is outstanding under Tim Dang's thoughtful and caring direction. Huynh and Takeda both give wonderfully layered and complex portraits of the two totally different males. In the long run their truthful interactions prove somewhat therapeutic. Elizabeth Liang is precious as Avalyn, so desperately lonely and in love with Brian. Everyone has had a close friend like Avalyn at some point in their lives and Liang makes us recall that person. Christine Corpuz as Deborah is smart, outspoken and completely supportive of Neil and is equally terrific playing three other roles. Ruffy Landayan and Marcus Choi display tremendous versatility in a variety of roles. Choi has his finest hour as the deceptive rough trick and Landayan, sweet and tender as Eric, who has deep feelings for Neil.
Dang's direction could not be better, as we are pulled in to what appears at first glance to be a taut and chilling sci-fi adventure and then suddenly jolted back to the starkly real facts of the case ... with some mercy and spiritual consolation appearing at the very end. Very interesting and eerie to have actors look at other actors as they are exiting the stage, even if they are not in the actual scene with them. A fascinating experience, all!
Set and projection design by Alan E. Muraoka is to be especially singled out for its darkly bold and engaging look. It is a tad disconcerting to have the projected images change so often during a scene, though, as one may focus on that and lose track of the content of the actual scene.
This is riveting, intelligent theatre for the socially conscious, but its nudity, foul language and sexual situations make it off limits to young children and for those adults less open-minded.