The National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) commissioned five playwrights to create monologues for a cast of Asian Americans over the age of 60. Out of Time is the title of this noble endeavor; the pandemic, aging and mortality are the common themes. The opening piece is the most accomplished.
I don’t have much to say about my work, it’s out there, you can find it if you Google me, it’s probably streaming on Kanopy or some place like that where you don’t have to pay. Personally, I don’t watch documentaries. They’re almost always depressing.
In Anna Ouyang Moench’s substantive My Documentary, the brilliant gray-haired Page Leong with her clipped English accent, regal presence and appealing feistiness, portrays Woman, a 70-year-old celebrated award-winning documentary filmmaker. In 35 minutes, Ms. Moench through her detailed precise writing and command of narrative gives us the scope of Woman’s eventful life. Her parents fled China after the 1949 Communist takeover, she was born in Taiwan and grew up in England. After moving to the U.S., she fell into her profession, married an idealistic American soldier with literary aspirations, raised three sons and endured the pandemic in Los Angeles. My Documentary matches the perfect performer with the right material.
NAATCO co-founder Mia Katigbak has long been a marvelous New York City theater mainstay with her idiosyncratic comedic and dramatic gifts. She employs these to elevate Mia Chung’s minor, though intriguing Ball in the Air. It’s a 20-minute sketch dreamily depicting Ena’s restlessness over her personal life and fixation with the 2016 presidential election in three unrelated stories. The periodic sight of Ms. Katigbak striking a ping pong paddle with a ball attached to it is a delight.
Appearing behind a scrim, with her performance projected via video on a screen in front of the audience, the stalwart and charming Rita Wolf appears as Carla, a South Asian and American who has learned she has the predisposition gene for breast cancer in Jaclyn Backhaus’s Black Market Caviar. This cerebral stream of consciousness exercise jumps back and forth in time, sustaining its 25 minutes.
The lady at the store, she kept giving me candy,
And I kept eating and eating. I ate so much candy.
The bomb fell on my house while I was eating candy.
As Tokyo-born Taki, an elderly retired Japanese banker and a long-time U.S. resident in Naomi Iizuka’s Japanese Folk Song, Glenn Kubota is towering. For 20 minutes, the personable Mr. Kubota comically and dramatically relates incidents from Taki’s life and imparts wisdom to an unseen child of his. He relishes recounting near death experiences in each decade of his life. Ms. Iizuka gracefully renders her selection of pivotal events for an enchanting mini portrait.
Last, least and longest at 38 minutes is Sam Chanse’s Disturbance Specialist. It’s a tepid satirical take on the current trend of cancel culture. Leonie is of mixed-race Asian ancestry and is an acclaimed American novelist in her 70’s. She has recently run afoul of the intelligentsia due to a series of controversial tweets. Instead of backing out of delivering a previously scheduled speech at her alma mater, she is defiantly at the lectern prepared for battle.
You’re free to go at any time, of course.
Or as my father would have said:
“You don’t like it, get the fuck out.”
Ms. Chanse does not specify the nature of the crucial tweets, so we can’t decide if Leonie is victim or provocateur. The piece plays out as a familiar lampooning of academia and the literati with Leonie also revealing secrets, but it all doesn’t pay off. The effulgent Natsuko Ohama works wonders in the role of Leonie, effortlessly conveying the character’s haughtiness, humor and wistfulness. “You know I marched in Selma, right? You know that?”
Conceived and directed by Les Waters, his staging of Out of Time is of purposeful simplicity. The actors are seated, standing or in motion fulfilling the intentions of each author. The stage is set with scenic designer dots’ atmospheric assemblage of gauzy curtains and minimal furnishings which abstractly suggest different locales and tones. Reza Behjat’s clinical lighting design and Fabian Obispo’s modulated sound design successfully accentuate and realize each of the diverse works. Black, white and red are the colors of Mariko Ohigashi’s smart costume design.
Out of Time is a fine opportunity to experience some stimulating new dramatic writing and uniformly superior acting.
Out of Time (through March 13, 2022)
National Asian American Theatre Co. (NAATCO)
Martinson Theater at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.publictheater.org
Running time: two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission