Chicago Theatre Review
A Cautionary Tale
Wild Boar – Silk Road Rising
This play by Candace Chong, translated by Joanna C. Lee and Ken Smith and adapted by David Henry Hwang, seems the perfect choice for today’s audiences, considering the state of the union under our current administration. A futuristic Hong Kong that smacks of Washington D.C. in 2017 feels almost prophetic. The feel of this tale is cautionary but, shockingly, much of what Ms Chong wrote has already come to pass in this country.
Architectural and technological development has enabled urban growth to advance at a mad pace in a Hong Kong of the not-so-distant future. However, in spite of all the progress, wild boars ironically still stalk the city. They’re wounded, caged and slaughtered by hunting parties looking for a bit of rural adventure in this teaming metropolis. This becomes Chong’s symbol for what is happening to most of the city’s inhabitants.
In a dark, film noir-like opening scene, a controversial professor suddenly goes missing, right before our eyes. His name is Mu Ne. Since the media is now entirely owned and operated by corporate conglomerates, no one is willing or able to investigate or even report the crime. Ruan, played with quiet, gentle dignity and sophistication by F. Karmann Bajuyo, refuses to live in this kind of world. He resigns from his position as editor of the populace paper and begins a subversive, antiestablishment news source. Ruan’s primary goal is to expose the status quo for what they are (or aren’t) and, ultimately, find his missing friend and mentor.
Assisted by Tricia, his photographer wife (played with poise and purpose by the incredibly talented and subtly sensual Christine Bunuan), Ruan also enlists the help of his younger protegee and Tricia’s former paramour, Johnny, played by the eagerly affable Scott Shimizu. This trio tries to locate the missing professor, but their personal relationships become problematic and get in the way, especially after Ruan is ambushed and shot. The supporting characters in this story include Yam, Johnny’s best buddy and an inept hacker, portrayed with enthusiasm by Fin Coe; and Karrie, a lovely waitress with an agenda, whose personal story could be the subject of her own drama, and who’s played to perfection by Emily Marso.
Directed with economy and intelligence by Helen Young, the element that’s lacking in this production is a sense of urgency and intrigue. There’s very little pressing this production, the kind of drive that should fuel a thriller. Everything after that first mysterious scene, cloaked in shadow and silence, moves along at a casually measured pace. Ms Young has achieved an overall air of mystery, primarily the result of Lindsey Lyddan’s excellent, moody lighting and Yeaji Kim’s fluid, high-tech set design, beautifully enhanced by the exciting mobile projections created by Anthony Churchill. An effective sound design by Thomas Dixon brings the whole play together. The overall effect is a sterile, industrial environment that tells a story that resonates in today’s world. The lasting image we take from this play, however, is a thriller mired by too formal an approach and told in stilted, almost polite dialogue.
Candace Chong’s play does address contemporary issues and it’s understandable why Silk Road Rising chose to produce it at this time. Corporate influences expand on a daily basis and seem to be controlling our lives at every turn. Our disappointing government and ever-growing big business seem to be joined together at the hip, and not for the good of everyone. This drama explores an issue that’s definitely worth exploring, but perhaps not in this manner.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 9-December 17 by Silk Road Rising at the lower level of the Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-857-1234, x 201 or by going to www.wildboarplay.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.