Aubergine: Tastes Just as Good No Matter How You Say It
There’s plenty of magic simmering away at Playwrights Horizons with Julia Cho’s new play, Aubergine. Food, memories, attachments, and parent/child dynamics play powerful ingredients in this deeply felt piece directed impeccably by Kate Whoriskey. It fills the theatrical air with such love and magic, but also with a taste of deep sadness and longing brought to the forefront by the preparations of food, wrapped in the memories of our childhood. The play whisked me back to the mysticism and depth of emotion of the similarly themed novel by Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate. It reminds us of how the smell of a soup or the taste of a berry can trigger such deep memories of family and frustrations, disappointments and death. These connections are ones we all carry in our hearts and our taste buds always; connections and attachments with our parents and our past.
The play opens with a wonderfully touching monologue, beautifully performed by Jessica Love, that only hints at what we are in store for. The real story is attached to Ray, as magnificently portrayed by Tim Kang. He is given the heavy task of caring for his terminally ill but distant father (a magnificently centered Stephen Park). It’s a deeply earthbound performance by Kang that feels powerfully real, centered, and void of all melodrama. Thrown into the stew of emotionality is Ray’s girlfriend, Cornelia, (played exquisitely by Sue Jean Kim), Ray’s uncle (played with a warm soulful depth by Joseph Steven Yang), and a spectacular Michael Potts as the Hospice Care Nurse,
Lucien, that everyone of us would feel blessed to have in our lives when such a moment comes. He is the embodiment of all things soulful and caring, without the holiness of sainthood.
All these characters get their own personal moments to shine, telling us a story from their past where tastes and smells are entwined with longing and loss of past emotional attachments with a parent. These stories have a way of seeping into our souls and at moments throughout this beautifully crafted play, I found myself quickly and instantaneously overcome by the beauty and the pain of memories found. Ray’s culinary enigmatic gift, as revealed throughout, brought tears to my eyes. Not once but at numerous moments. The play beautifully staged (Scenic Design: Derek McLane; Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller; Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski) does lag a bit as it tries to wind its way down. A few scenes could have been left out for this recipe to still taste as sweet (including the pre-
hospice scenes at Ray’s workplace), but Kang’s last moment/monologue is beautiful and needed. This is also true for the very last scene, which does a delicious full circle leaving us fully satiated with warmth and connection.
As I’ve said before in other reviews, I try very hard to know as little about a new play as possible before seeing it. Without being aware of the themes of Aubergine
, the magic of this play surprisingly seeped into my world before I even entered the theatre that night. I had spent the day organizing the last few details of my trip home for Canadian Thanksgiving, and talking with my mother about when the family would gather for the traditional meal. Just
the idea of going home for this holiday always brings to mind all those tastes and flavors of my mother’s Thanksgiving feast; the pumpkin pie, her stuffing, her delicious potatoes, and her perfectly done turkey. As this play deftly displays, all of our history; the joy and the sadness, the love and regret of our youth are blended in those recipes that together make us a family. This play stuffed me with those memories, both strong, old, forgotten and regained, good and bad, and as Cornelia states: “There was a time when things tasted good, when there was pleasure and even joy in a mouthful of food. I’d forgotten. But here was the proof.”
The second piece of magic makes me wonder about the world and how things happen. Much to my surprise, I needed a last minute companion to this show, and I found one in a
friend who lives close by. He was able to meet me at the theatre just in time for the show. When asked, he said he had wanted to see this play as it was written by a Korean writer, and being Korean and speaking Korean fluently (there is a lot of Korean spoken and subtitled for us non-Korean speakers), he was very intrigued. I had no idea of the Korean cultural aspects of the play, so it was a bit of magic that brought him to sit beside me in that theatre, and a blessing to be witness to him connecting to all that was said and explored in such a deep and personal way: “We had four fridges!” he told me at the end of the play. Aubergine
is a thoughtful and beautifully crafted play that takes us all, regardless of cultural upbringing, through a journey of familiar love and loss. It takes us back to our roots with every delicious bite told through the stories of many, anchored in the story of one; a chef, a Korean young man, and a son of a dying father. Cho’s culinary mystical magic infuses us all in its aroma, and for that, (as I will say next month with my family at Thanksgiving dinner), I am truly thankful. So now, let’s eat.
Aubergine. Written by Julia Cho. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. At Playwrights Horizons.
Tim Kang, Sue Jean Kim, Jessica Love, Stephen Park, Michael Potts, Joseph Steven Yang.
Scenic Design: Derek McLane; Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller; Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design: M.L. Dogg; Production Stage Manager: Cole P. Bonenbergerh