June is the First Fall: Show Review by Debbie Gray Bloom

(photo by Maria Baranov)

Overheard in the Ladies’ Room at the New Ohio Theatre,”There are a lot of Asian people here.” With almost no hesitation and a quick debate as to whether or not to mind my own business I told them, “Well you know the play is about an Asian family, written by an Asian playwright and is presented by Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America.”  They didn’t seem to appreciate my input.

I went to see June is the First Fall with high expectations after learning that the playwright Yilong Liu had won the Kennedy Center Paula Vogel Playwriting award. I also was intrigued by the story of a young Chinese man who is dealing with the fallout of coming out to his family as gay. I had not yet been to the New Ohio theatre and found it easily off the 1 train, a small comfortable black box space set up for this production with stadium seating.

The set by Jean Kim depicting the living room of a small home in Hawaii immediately informed us that this was a family of modest means. The first scene, on an airplane simply represented by two chairs and an airline blanket, grabbed our attention immediately and quickly took us right into the story of Don. As in each subsequent scene that the mother appears in the light cue, change alerted us to the fact that she is a vision, a memory, a ghost. Lighting by Cha See was effective and evocative.

Upon meeting the rest of the family, we quickly learn that Don, the son, has been estranged from his family and has not been home to Hawaii from New York nor seen his sister or father in 10 years. We learn snippets of the history slowly. Over the course of the play, there are revelations and misunderstandings rehashed and explored which is my favorite thing to see in a drama. I would have appreciated a deeper character development and more in-depth dialogue to facilitate the understanding of the emotional walls everyone was navigating. I wondered why Don was so angry with a father who appeared to be relatively accepting of his being gay. Unlike the mother in Torch Song Trilogy who was so painful to listen to and watch, Don’s father seemed to really be trying to connect with his son asking about boyfriends and being affectionately demonstrative towards him.  Eventually some of these questions were answered, but there was not enough time to explore them further which left me wanting more. I liked that the play did not wrap up easily and that there was clearly still room for growth among them all.

Exceptional among all the cast was Chun Cho playing the mother Yu Qin. Every time she appeared, magic happened. All her lines were delivered in Chinese which made her scenes musical and ethereal. The climactic scene which revealed the heart of the story was in both Chinese and English. It seemed a poignant dance that was breathtaking and beautifully directed by Michael Leibenluft.

A worthy play that addresses immigrant, LGBTQ and cultural issues it runs through April 20th.  Go see it if only to listen to the melodious Chinese language.

Visit www.yzrep.org.


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