Victory Gardens’ Year Zero Has Its Strengths, But Doesn’t Connect

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 29, 2009 9:00PM

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photo of Jennifer Shin and Tim Chiou via victorygardens.org
Year Zero is a play of many firsts: The first of two plays presented in the first cycle of Victory Gardens’ “Ignition Festival,” and the first play to open in the theater’s brand-new Studio Theater. Created “to introduce exceptional new writers of color under the age of 40 to Victory Gardens,” the festival presents an exciting opportunity for playwrights and audience alike - unfortunately, we just weren’t that excited.

Here’s the premise: The children of Cambodian immigrants who fled the Khmer Rouge, Vuthy (Joyee Lin) and his sister, Ra (Jennifer Shin) have just lost their mother. Ra has taken time off from her studies at UC Berkeley to help pack up their house in Long Beach and move 16 year-old Vuthy to their aunt’s house. Childhood friend and neighbor-turned-gang member Han (Tim Chiou) has just been released from prison, and as it turns out, Ra has been harboring feelings for him for years. This is made more problematic by a surprise visit from Glenn (Allan Aquino), Ra’s Chinese-American boyfriend who, to put it bluntly, is a white-washed yuppy.

The story is compelling. The characters are rich. The script thoughtfully addresses discrimination issues, both within and outside of the Asian-American community, and the burdens of living up to parental expectations in light of parental sacrifice, while still managing to be funny. But in what should have been the most emotional and tense moments of the show, we found ourselves feeling oddly disconnected. We wondered if it was us. Maybe we just weren’t in the right mindset for the show. Maybe we were too distracted by the fact that we were freezing cold (seriously, if the house isn’t full, turn the air down). Maybe we just didn’t get it.

Well, we couldn’t really figure it all out. When that happens we’re not too proud to check out what other writers are saying in hopes they might help bring out something new and clarify our own point of view. In this case Kris Vire at Time Out Chicago did just that for us, so we’re going to leave you with his far better-articulated words.

[Golamco’s] writing is too often dramatically inert...Even the freer exchanges feel static, with [director Andrea J. Dymond] seemingly directing her actors to plant themselves and yell. The pacing, particularly in the transitions, is glacial. The sense is of a potentially exciting new voice that’s been encouraged to mainstream itself. It’s less innovative than stifling.

(Thanks Kris, I owe you a beer.)


Year Zero, through October 18, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets $39 (group discounts available), 773-871-3000.