PANG SPA - Atwater Village Theater (Chalk Repertory Theatre Production)

Reviewed by Michael Edwards

Chalk Repertory Theatre's PANG SPA at the Atwater Village Theater is a beautiful and soulful hero's journey through the heart of a Koreatown, Los Angeles family. Smart, funny, and gifted with a remarkable cast, this inspiring production speaks in a timely way to present day America.

Set in a typical Koreatown ranch style apartment complex with culturally cozy Korean neighbors intimately exposed to each other's business, a mysterious young woman answering a Craigslist ad introduces herself to one of the neighbors, a resident caretaker and son to his elderly parents suffering from dementia. The elderly tenant the young woman interviews with appears to be in the man's indirect but watchful care as well. The young woman proceeds to question the man about his job, life and other searching questions while constantly being interrupted by the goings on of the complex, the key interrupting energy being the young man's elderly father (late-stage dementia) who needs constant care.

As the story unfolds, we learn about who the young lady is and why she is really showing up.. The deep roots behind the peaceful culture of the complex (they improvise their own lavish Korean spa at times) and what it says about communal peace and forgiveness make this work by playwright David Johanna Kim, directed by Reena Dutt a powerful work not to be missed.

The play moves carefully and powerfully, giving a sense of true life in the complex. Performances are beautifully realized. Jazmine Kimiko's 'Dora' (the young woman) is striking in her resilient state of being. Seething with emotion, she navigates a sensitive journey, but she keeps it all within, surprising us every time she lashes out. A brilliant performance.

Ben Caroll's 'Daniel' is grounded, thoughtful, always organic and simply truthful at every turn. He carries us through and does it with magnificent grace. Hahn Cho's 'Tae' is both the fun of the show. and the patriarchal heart. Masterfully walking the line between revealing the pain of dementia and the joy of losing memories but never losing sight of self. Mr. Cho is a magnificent delight to take in. Edward Hong's 'Jong' is a wonderful straight line throughout. He takes every moment of his supporting role and keeps us guessing what's really going on in his mind.  A very smart performance.

Christopher Callen's 'Avy' is the matriarchal heart of the play. She carries unspoken joy and unspoken integrity as she reveals her dementia-suffering life as one committed to love and joy, but with awareness of its real-world cost to her son. A brilliant portrayal. Diane Kobayashi's 'Mrs. Weiss' is dynamite. Her walk-through joy and realistic concern for her complex extended family fleshes out the play's unique world building. A powerful, but nuanced performance.

Director Deena Rut successfully builds an instantly believable world (especially for those of us who have lived and thrived in K-Town at some point and know what's what to a point) that takes its time and hits heavy when it hits, not unlike every other day in the city of Los Angeles. The play is remarkably graceful in design and execution. Stage Design by Justin Huen is remarkable. Lights and sound are simple but ghostly. Ultimate kudos to playwright David Johann Kim for this graceful, at times painful but ultimately loving piece that dares to speak truth to the sometimes difficult but common rites of passage of family love. Special mention to the tai chi moments; Golden beautiful.

PANG SPA runs Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday Matinee at 2pm thru June 9. Atwater Village Theatre 3269 Casitas, Los Angeles 90039 


Posted By DH Magazine on May 23, 2024 02:58 pm | Permalink