Chicago Theatre Review
Family Devotions: Halcyon’s Hwang Falls Short
Halcyon’s attempt at Hwang falls short of potential
Family Devotions by David Henry Hwang
Halcyon Theater Company at Greenhouse Theater Center
Runs August 11-September 4, 2011
Review by Darcy Rose Coussens
Wrapping up the summer of David Henry Hwang in Chicago is Family Devotions presented by Halcyon Theatre. First was Yellow Face at Silk Road in June and then Chinglish at the Goodman, now headed to Broadway. Yet despite the hype about the three plays as well as my own appreciation of the Tony award-winner’s work, I found Halcyon’s production something of a letdown. This is one of Hwang’s earlier plays, and although a few plot transitions could do with some ironing out, Family Devotions has plenty of wit and important concepts that get lost in the shuffle in this performance.
This dark comedy depicts three generations of a Chinese-American family gathered for a reunion: two elderly sisters, their children, and two teenage grandchildren. The guest of honor is Di-Gou, the great-uncle visiting from communist China. His loyalty to his country and lack of religion causes conflict between him and his sisters, who are devout, even fanatical Christians. Diverse in cultural assimilation, the family members discuss their expectations for one another and their views of what being an American really means. However, focus seems to sidetrack into the smaller moments and I felt that overall this production missed the mark, leaving the story floundering below its potential.
The actors sometimes seemed to be striving for the audience’s attention, even from the moment I walked in– one actress mysteriously “messed around with the space” until two minutes before the show began, which made for awkward, hushed pre-show conversation in the small studio space. Most of the cast comes across as hokey and theatrical, but Di-Gou (Arvin Jalandoon) redeems them somewhat in the depth of his reserved and thoughtful character. Among the largely two-dimensional and ultimately frightening characters, the audience can relate to this bewildered visitor, who truly represents tradition and loyalty. The two elder sisters (Kaori Aoshima and Mia Park) are severe but also funny, although I lost a couple jokes in their accents.
This experience was an off-putting one overall. The set is basic yet poorly designed, mixing indoors and outdoors with a pillar front and center that blocks sight lines. I wasn’t sure what to make of the abrupt ending, which includes torture, speaking in tongues (to my interpretation), and the sudden death of two characters (at least I think they are supposed to be dead). Director Jenn Adams fails to consistently connect the overlying themes, so that the plot shifts disjointedly from lighthearted banter to intense religious zeal. I was puzzled upon entering and I left even more confused. The tickets are affordable for Chicago theater, but unfortunately the quality is not.
The Greenhouse Theater Center is located at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago.
Run time is 85 minutes.
Tickets are $18-25 and can be purchased at (773) 404-7336.
Visit HalcyonTheater.org for more information.