The In-Person Theatre Review: NAATCO/Public Theater’s Out of Time
“No seams at all,” she tells us with pride in one very touching and wisely stitched moment that registers all that is magnificent and clear about this creation. One of the five personas that have a strong tale to tell inside The Public Theater‘s intimate engagement called Out of Time. And we are pulled in. Precisely and intimately, at least with the majority of the five new monologues delivered with clarity and a strong sensibility by five award-winning Asian American playwrights that have been brought together here. They are all calculated with clear intent to be performed by Asian American actors over the age of sixty, and as conceived and directed with a straight-forward distance by Les Waters (Broadway/Vineyard’s Dana H.), the commission, thanks to NAATCO, finds its real kick in the gut, at least for the majority of the two and half hours spent with this company of artists.
Revolving around the ideas of aging, this timely theatrical construct digs into the complications of parenthood, memory, attachment, and identity from a number of “catastrophic shit show” angles and a ‘here and now’ nod to our “collective trauma”. Grief is at its center, rising out of these familiar faces in the darkness, finding its energy in the bruised and fragile tapestry that hangs defiantly in the air. With a scenic design by dots that borders on the undramatic, with simple straightforward lighting by Reza Behjat (ATC’s English), clean costuming by Mariko Ohigashi (NAATCO’s Veil Widow Conspiracy), and a solid sound design by Fabian Obispo (Public’s Teenage Dick), the tight well-seasoned cast unpacks its address in a slow but well-crafted march. The energy flows in and out, holding us tight while sometimes letting us float away, all with the intent of finding connection inside the moving new works by writers Jaclyn Backhaus (Black Market Caviar), Sam Chanse (Disturbance Specialist), Mia Chung (Ball in the Air), Naomi Iizuka (Japanese Folk Song), and Anna Ouyang Moench (My Documentary).
Most find their intimate engagement, particularly in the first starring Page Leong (Public’s Too Noble Brothers) as ‘Woman’ in Moench’s well-conceived and performed My Documentary. As she recalls the last time she touched someone, we find ourselves knitted into her crisp, tightly woven fabric with a well-enunciated ease. Her connection is compelling and gentle, and her take on the conceptualizations that surround grief, marriage, isolation, and parenting; loving her children “even while resenting the intrusion“, is as brilliantly precise and engaging as one could hope for, particularly in the way she takes us through the “more than one way to grieve” collective.
The bounce, bounce, bounce of Mia Katigbak’s delivery (NAATCO Co-Founder and Actor-Manager) during her Ball in the Air monologue by Chung also finds its way to be clear and crisp in its deceptively-appearing easy trick work, taking its time to get on the right track, but holding our attention and focus with a quick snip of the scissors. It’s smart and connecting in a way that holds us tight. But I had a harder time staying tuned in to the physically distanced Rita Wolf (Public’s The Michaels) as Carla in Backhaus’s Black Market Caviar, which faltered in its keeping of secrets while holding onto two truths. “What does it do to our body?” she asks, but the answer is not as satisfying as the previous two pieces.
After a long first act and a short intermission, the fourth piece, starring a well formulated Glenn Kubota (“New Amsterdam“) as Taki, or at least someone who looks like Taki. In Iizuka’s Japanese Folk Song, Kubota beautifully sings out its pleasure with a well-orchestrated craftmanship, so very faint that you really have to listen to the sound of its unique take on grief. He makes you see things that aren’t really there, “just like it was before“, creating a scenario that is utterly compelling in his undertaking. So much so, that you don’t know if you really want to emerge from his blink of an eye enjoyable moment.
The last section of this circle returns us neatly to another award-winning female character, this time played by the magnificent Natsuko Ohama as speech-giver Leonie in Chanse’s Disturbance Specialist. She tells us we are “free to go“, but the energy is so tantalizing with ripe sharp disturbances, that we all lean into this side-stepping pleasure that is more a prologue than the speech we never get the chance to hear. “In all this isolation,” she wisely informs us, she discovered that she quite enjoyed all this clear and crisp time.
We feel her connection in this moment, knowing the contrasts she is so meticulously speaking about, just like we did with Taki and the first two ladies. It is bruised but alive with the brilliance of sadness, honor, and grief, rolled up in the art of living and trusting in our very existence. The pieces all feel involved, albeit sometimes a bit too long and drawn out. But the air is thick with possibility and enchantment, all coming out loud and clear from these finely tuned and constructed Asian American voices, digging into grief and all its complexities.