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David Henry Hwang Theatre, East West Players

by Sylvia Blush ~

In an instant this seemingly quirky tale about a young man who believes he was abducted by aliens is turned by the obvious revelation that his recurring dreams are not what they seem. Presented by East West Players (EWP), Mysterious Skin, is a dark drama set in Kansas and New York City in 1991.

Kansas: Brian Lackey (Scott Keiji Takeda), turns to Avalyn Friesen (Elizabeth Liang), a fellow believer in alien abductions, for help in uncovering the mysteries that plague him nightly. As they slowly piece together fragments of his nightmares, he realizes the boy being probed in his dreams, Neil McCormick (David Huynh), was a team member from his little league years.

New York: Neil is living out his fantasies as a hustler for the money, sex, and perhaps love. After a bad night picking up a trick, Neil returns to Kansas only to find Brian waiting for him; hoping he holds the key to regain his sanity.

Directed by EWP’s Producing Artistic Director Tim Dang, Mysterious Skin, is an emotional roller coaster for the audience as well as the actors. Capturing the stylized essence of classic Sci-Fi TV, Mr. Dang effectively stages eery images as a backdrop to an already pulsating scene. The tension is palpable across the stage and reaches the last rows of the theatre. However, playwright Prince Gomolvilas doesn’t offer much more mystique within the text to draw your attention in act two.  We quickly learn enough nuggets of information to help us connect the dots faster than the characters. This lack of dramatic anticipation draws out act two to a lull, but is saved by the performances.

Mr. Takeda and Christine Corpuz (Deborah, Margaret, Wendy, Receptionist) give stellar performances. Ms. Corpuz, is as flawless an actor as they come. Seamlessly stringing together four varying characters with depth and purpose. Mr. Takeda holds fast to his emotions and carefully reveals the complex layers of Brian’s state of being. His final moments on stage make up for the lack of text support in act two and reveal a vulnerable eight year old in this young man’s flesh.

Upon entering the theatre, my breath was taken away by Allan E. Muraoka’s stunning set. The projection design creates a new environment for each scene and serves the play well as it propels itself onto the actors as a portal into another realm. Coupled with Jeremy Pivnick and John Zalewski’s designs (light and sound respectively), the stage was set for an out of this world experience. As lights surged intermittently during pre-show, a satellite image of earth towered behind chain linked fences which served as walls for Brian’s room and a cafe in New York.

Mysterious Skin offers a unique look at the connection between alien abduction and our human need to suppress hurtful memories. Sci-Fi fanatics be warned: Except for a couple of UFO tales, the play is hardly about debunking or confirming theories on the existence of alien life. This is not a discouragement, however, to treat yourself to a provocative night of theatre.

The Los Angeles Premiere of Mysterious Skin plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm. through Sunday, October 10, 2010.

Performances run  (Post show discussions with artists from the creative team and representatives from the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Center for the Pacific Asian Family will be held on various dates. Contact the theatre for more information.)

The David Henry Hwang Theatre is located at the Union Center for the Arts at 120 Judge JohnAiso St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, east of Alvarado and north of Temple. (Note: Parking was $7 and is adjacent to the theatre.)

Tickets: $25 – $35. Senior, student and group discounts available.