Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of Feeding the Dragon
The play opens as three university colleagues converse while sipping coffee. David (Jeremy Kahn), who teaches screen and stage writing, recently had a student named Dennis (Daniel Chung) in class. Genevieve (Kerry Warren), another English teacher, is also worried about Dennis, whom we've not yet seen. They recommend that their friend and creative writing professor, Gina (Jackie Chung), might find common ground with Dennis.
The next scene finds Dennis, very late for an appointment, sitting in a catatonic state in a chair in an office that Gina shares with other faculty members. He (outfitted by costumer Maggie Morgan) wears a black hoodie and baseball cap and shields his eyes with black sunglasses. She speaks to and questions him and he is absolutely unresponsive. She previously asked him to turn in five pages of work and he produced, in her words, "half a novel." The work, according to her, is not worthwhile and is filled with vulgarity and darkness. Both Gina and Dennis are Asian Americans and, perhaps, they will discover something in common.
Gina, herself a writer, informs Dennis that she is an adjunct at the school as she attempts to penetrate the sullen Dennis's outward shell. She explains that, in order to pass the course, he must produce some quality work. She urges him to write something about his presence in a donut shop at 4 a.m. He rapidly produces prose of some value, and soon actually begins to speak directly to Gina. While it would require significant optimism to suggest the two now have rapport, Gina's empathy for Dennis cuts through and is indicative of some progress or promise. He confesses that his family situation is less than ideal, that he feels everyone has thought him unattractive, that he can never measure up to his older, prolific sister, a college professor herself.
Cho's realistically compelling dialogue composed for Gina and Dennis is gripping. The relationship that develops between teacher and student is therapeutic for him, and perhaps for her. It is also filled with extreme tension. Gina is an open and emotional woman while Dennis is constricted with fear. He is an outcast who, when upset, will burst forth with violent verbiage.
Daniel Chung, as Dennis, does not speak for quite some time while Jackie Chung's Gina is proactive as soon as the young man slowly walks into her office. Each of these actors is fully motivated and entirely credible. So, too, are the supporting performers.
We live during an era, within our country, when guns have been utilized to kill students time and again. Julio Cho's parents were immigrants and the playwright has reacted, through her scripting, to slayings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and more.
Cho's play includes shocking, sudden instants of imagined gun usage. The first of these occurs early on. Gun fire, later on, is punctuated by noise (sound design by Robert Kaplowitz) and off-and-on fluorescent light switching (lighting design by Scott Zielinski). For the entirety of the show, Lisa Peterson directs knowingly, accelerating when need be or allowing back-and-forth discussion to occur without such alacrity.
Office Hour is most effective as Gina and Dennis struggle to communicate. Cho's writing is persuasive and riveting during those sequences. The gunshots, to this observer, are sensational and show-stopping. These, however, distract from the linkage Gina and Dennis might forge. The explosive aspects, to be sure, jolt one to attention. It is truly moving, though, to watch and listen as Gina and Dennis grapple.
Office Hour, though February 11, 2018, at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II in New Haven, Connecticut. For information and tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.