Review Roundup: OFFICE HOUR at Berkeley Rep

Review Roundup: OFFICE HOUR at Berkeley RepThe reviews are in for Berkeley Rep's OFFICE HOUR, written by Julia Cho, and directed by Lisa Peterson. OFFICE HOUR opened on February 22nd, and will run through March 25th.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Scott Lucas, San Francisco Magazine: Art can and should confront painful and uncomfortable societal issues, particularly those as shameful as our ongoing national epidemic of mass shootings, epitomized by the one that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida two weeks ago. Here, though, we're offered a mix of smug liberal cliches with clunkingly obvious metaphors that Barton Fink would reject as too on-the-nose. "Aren't you worried about him having a gun?" one English lecturer asks another. "No," comes the reply, "I'm worried that we all have guns." Cue chin stroking and sober murmurs of agreement... Cho's play aims for gritty and realistic, but instead ends up feeling gratuitous and revolting.

Karen D'Souza, The Mercury News: Unfortunately the drama loses some of its hold over us in these scattershot permutations of possibility. Some of the parallel realities are harrowing, particularly those involving people cowering in the shadows while a rampaging gunman stalks the halls, but others are frustrating. The standoffs between the student and the teacher, often punctuated by bursts of gunfire, never build into something like resonance before being cut off. Both key actors find shades in the spiral of emotions that sucks the characters into darkness. Daniel Chung nails Dennis' ability to radiate blankness through eyes that seem almost dead. Jackie Chung pivots through a spectrum of feelings and fears in a dizzying dance macabre.

Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle: But as the coaxing and empathizing give way to scolding, raging, confessing and free-associating, scenes lose all grounding in the reality of character or situation; they're pure what-ifs in the playwright's head. The script makes the encounter go miraculously, like a feel-good movie, then horrifically, then absurdly: Picture Gina affecting broken English in a stereotyped accent, speaking into a pen as if she's Dennis' mom calling him on the phone, then Dennis magically taking the bait, as if a make-believe telephone game were all he needed to come to terms with his mommy issues. Except actually, don't waste your time investing in it, because like every other scene here, Cho might wash her hands of it, rewind and take another tack with the next blackout.

Thomas Lee, Asian American Theatre Review: Cho, a rising Asian American playwright, infuses this work with a great deal of cultural empathy and sensitivity. It's no accident that both Gina and Dennis are both Asian American even though the mass shooters have been mostly white. In doing so, Cho accomplished something rare, almost subversive: mainstreaming Asian Americans into the national conversation without anyone really noticing. The mass shooters can be anyone but the alienation that drives such murderous impulses can be unique to specific socio-economic groups. "Office Hour" is imperfect and ultimately unsatisfying. But Cho's thoughtful and empathetic approach to her characters makes this play well worth seeing, especially during these troubling times.

Kedar Adour, For All Events: Cho is a clever writer and the almost one-sided "discussion" between Gina and Dennis make partial sense but in more than one verbal encounter amounts to implausible game-playing. Gina often reiterates the obvious such as "You let yourself be unlikeable." With Dennis's retort, "It is a rational response to what I am. I was the problem" and "Society needs people like me." Fortunately the play lasts only 80 minutes without intermission and did not earn the usual standing ovation from the opening night audience. The ending is stunningly frightening.

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