by Ed Malin · October 24, 2014
Pia Wilson's new play Turning The Glass Around, directed by Heidi Grumelot, comes at you in your blindspot with a gentle reminder of the cost of the pursuit of happiness.
America is a scary and eviscerating place. Seven-foot puppets may haunt you when you're praying for the soul of your dead father or looking in a mirror. Some immigrants, with the exception of African Americans who arrived with no choice in the matter, will forever wonder if they have become American. "What is Korean Dracula's favorite morning beverage?" our hero asks at the beginning and end of the show, with remarkably variable dramatic effect.
Philip Lee (Don Castro) is a Korean American who is mourning the death of his father, a hard-working restaurant owner. Philip is married to Daina (Carmen Gill), a privileged African American who once studied ethnomusicology [in this country, that means jazz] at Columbia, and is now a totally loving trophy wife. When Philip becomes unhinged and loses his job over an impossible-to-win racial discrimination issue, he sees his doppelganger on the subway and trails and photographs him. Daina and Philip have debated the significance the poet Shelley gave to such sightings.
The trailed man, a blond, blue-eyed and blue-blooded, not to mention paranoid, businessman named William (Topher Mikels) ends up at Daina and Philip's apartment. Initially prepared to sue Philip, William is instead charmed by Daina, to whom he realized he is connected by country clubs and other material considerations. He is sure he can add her to his hoard of possessions.
Philip turns to his mother, Kim Bong-Cha (Kristen Hung), for understanding but finds she is about ready to go back to Korea and leave the bewildering life to which her late husband bound her. Being white would be a lot easier, as everyone including William thinks. Daina brings Philip and William together for dinner, perhaps to aid Philip in getting a new job. Will love or money prevail?
Watching this play is a pleasurable act of disorientation. David A. Sexton's lighting design, with many projections of subway cars, the Coney Island Wonder Wheel, and never-focused silhouettes, and accompaniment from Brooklyn-based psych folk band Magmana, floats the audience in a kind of American nightmare. Spencer Lott designed some puppets that are large enough for the issues addressed in this play, and Jessica Marie Lorence, Sam Gold and Fabian Gonzales parade these creatures as unobtrusively as possible into the Lee family's living room. See if you can avoid the subconscious desire to scream.
This production takes risks, and all involved deliver a great opportunity, no matter who you are, to think about masks and what's underneath.