Chicago Theatre Review
The Prodigal Father
American Hwangap – Halcyon Theatre
In Korean culture a man’s Hwangap, his sixtieth birthday, is a huge milestone in his life. He not only looks back upon the things he has made but also, coming to the end of a lifetime, consider himself reborn. For Min Suk Chun (Joe Yau) neither the past nor the future look very bright. Returning to the wife and three children he abandoned in shame thirty years ago, he finds that none of his efforts have turned out well and his plans at making amends soon hop the rails. In this warm and percolating comedy by Lloyd Suh, we are treated to the antic and heartfelt failures of an American family.
Helen Young’s production cleverly spaced around the tiny church stage of the Halcyon Theater, is dynamic, full of thrusts and motor spins of energy. The cast perfectly captures Suh’s rapid fire repartee, and whimsical dysfunction. Cheryl Hamada leads the pack as Mary Chun, Min’s ex-wife and general herder of her damaged ducklings. Hamada manages to spin Mary’s mingled contempt and desire for her ex-husband with a telenovela-verve and a well realistic, rooted compassion. Ralphie Chun (Jin Kim) suffering from “a nervous condition” is tenderly rendered by Kim, as he picks his way through scenes and transitions with great care and enthusiasm. Helen Too Lee engrafts Esther, the middle, unmoored child, with a gentle beaten down cheerfulness, depressingly recognizable from unhappy families, with occasional, quite frightening storms of controlled anguish. But in the midsts of all these heartfelt performances that Yau takes the drive of the show under his feet and it’s weight on his shoulders. Min is a plumb of a role and with his Dad-ish good humor and wild rashes of excitability Yau has a ball of a time spinning the peddle of a man sewing the tapestry of his own mythology.
The play unfolds at a measured pace, considering more the interrelations of characters than simmering to one boiling point (indeed it goes one scene further than it ought to). But from first to last it is fiercely witty and deeply poignant. It’s an old fashioned family comedy all the funnier because of it’s truth.
by Ben Kemper
Halcyon Theater 4541 N. Spaulding Avenue
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