Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

San Diego Repertory Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of A Jewel in the Crown City

Dana Lee and Brian Kim
Photo by Jim Carmody
Food, family and death may at first glance appear unrelated, but Julia Cho's play Aubergine, now on stage at San Diego Repertory Theatre, manages to connect these seemingly disparate topics. Living in a densely populated city, a Korean-American chef, Ray (Brian Kim), decides to take a break from his job in order to care for his father (Dana Lee) who is dying from cirrhosis. Ray chooses to look after his dad at his home and, in the process, he draws closer to a caring hospice nurse Lucien (Terrell Donnell Sledge) and a distant uncle (Yong Kim). As his uncle can't speak English, Ray decides to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend Cornelia (Audrey Park), who is able to act as a translator. It turns out that food that has made a big impact on the different characters' lives, and they share their recollections with the audience through revealing monologues.

It's quite clear early on, that Ray's father is at death's door, and this provides a degree of tension throughout the evening. While Cho makes the point a few too many times that Ray's father isn't happy with his son's career, their relationship will probably be relatable to a lot of theatregoers. Each of the characters is given a significant monologue and, despite a poignant final scene, some of them toward the end cause the resolution to feel a little too long. They are, however, well written, and are performed with deep emotion. All of the monologues are full of interesting details that cause them to feel like actual memories.

Kim portrays Ray as someone who is both tough and compassionate and, despite his anger towards his father, he is loyal to him. Park, Sledge and Kim as Ray's uncle (who barely speaks any English in the play) are all equally sympathetic as they draw closer to Ray, with each having backstories that make them likable and fascinating people. Kim brings such a sense of kindness to his role that one might want to give him a hug when the play is over. Lee and Amanda Sitton (in a small role as Diane, an American) play characters who have a deep connection to food and don't get anywhere near as much dialogue as the other roles. Yet they capture the theatregoers' undivided attention when they are onstage. Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey stages the bittersweet and sometimes funny monologues in an unhurried fashion.

Salovey treats each of the characters with respect, and makes them feel like people one could easily encounter in real life. As Cho's writing emphasizes smaller moments with as much effect as the bigger ones, the audience gets to enjoy spending time with Ray and the others in scenes that are more about personal character growth than plot progression. Salovey's crew creates an atmosphere that shifts between realism and near fantasy. While Justin Humphres' set focuses largely on Ray's father's house, he finds subtle ways to create a variety of other locations, including the restaurant that Ray worked at and the hospital where the father stays during the opening part of the play. Kristin Swift's lighting and sound designer Melanie Chen Cole's use of music add plenty of emotion to the monologues.

With a great deal to say about human behavior, Aubergine is a deep exploration about how it's never too late to reconnect with others. Cho's narrative should also inspire you to eat a good meal after the curtain call.

Aubergine, through February 17, 2019, at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego CA. Tickets start at $25.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-544-1000.