aubergine opens with a single character, Diane (Safiya Fredericks), on a bare stage. Her appearance, and her monologue, could represent the next two hours: lean, contemplative, and full of food and familial relationships.
Ray (Tim Kang) is a chef whose relationship with his immigrant father (Sab Shimono) could be described as strained at best. But now his father is dying, and Ray is his primary caregiver.
Most comfortable in the loud, brash environment of a restaurant kitchen, Ray is out of his element sitting watch at the dining table in his father’s makeshift bedroom. The hospice nurse, Lucien (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson), encourages him to cook, even giving him an aubergine to spark his creative juices.
It is also up to Ray to tell his uncle (Joseph Steven Yang) about his father’s illness, but his uncle lives in Korea and speaks no English. Ray convinces his ex-girlfriend Cornelia (Jennifer Lim), to act as a translator. She becomes a fixture in the house when Ray’s uncle shows up in Ray’s kitchen wanting to cook a symbolic meal.
Through a series of flashbacks and monologues, playwright Julia Cho, leads us through the characters’ relationships with each other, with memory, and with food. There are some beautiful moments within these tangential stories.
Cho has also chosen to write a significant chunk of this play in Korean. Most of the Korean is translated, but some is not. I thought this was a great choice. It was nice to see the characters interact in their own language, without feeling the need to stick to English. It made the play that much richer.
There are a couple of missteps. The biggest for me was with the character of Lucien. Cho’s development of Lucien veers dangerously close to the Magical Negro trope. He is a refugee from an unidentified country but his accent and fluent French suggest he is from Francophone Africa. I wanted more specificity: about his country, his refugee experience, and his journey to the States. Additionally, I wanted Diane to be more relevant to the action. We don’t see her again until the end of the show.
But ultimately, this is a smart, engaging play and well worth the trip to Berkeley.
Reasons to Go:
- Tim Kang’s engaging performance as Ray
- The memories of food
- The theater has been newly renovated and the sound system has been upgraded
- And illustration of the immigration experience.
Who Should Go: Teens through adults
- Rush tickets ($10 off) are available one hour before the show for Students and Seniors
- Half-price tickets are available for anyone under 30
- Some performances have pre-show and/or post-show discussions
Themes: Migration, family, food
Advisory: Swear words, depiction of death
Show Information: via Berkeley Rep’s website