Olivia Newton John prodding people to ‘get physical.’ A mechanical tennis server lobbing balls. A cult-like fervor damning non-Jesus fanatics. Three generations of Chinese-Americans assimilate to a California lifestyle. Halcyon Theatre presents FAMILY DEVOTIONS. The family is having Chinese for dinner! Not off the menu, off the boat. The clan is gathering to welcome a beloved relative to their west coast home. In the late 1940’s, Di-Gou’s sisters immigrated to The States and he stayed behind in China. Thirty years later, he reunites with his siblings, his nieces, their husbands, and his great-niece and nephew. California ways can be foreign to even fellow Americans. Throw in communism and baptism by torture, it’s the state of no return. FAMILY DEVOTIONS prAys on dark comedy to illustrate enculturation.
This is the third offering in Chicago’s summer of Hwang! Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang penned this tale in 1981. There are nine distinct characters representing three generations of Chinese Americans. I was expecting more “Joy Luck Club.” I got Bible-beating zealots. Hwang uses stereotypes but not the ancient-Chinese-secret type. It’s really about the California cliches of looks, wealth, and who-you-know. It’s coupled along with some twisted humorous surprises. Under the direction of Jenn Adams, the action takes place in three locales: one inside the house and two outside. In such a small theatre space, Scenic Designer Tony Adams cleverly uses a net to separate the outdoor areas. It helps give some perspective on comings and goings. But I still got confused. (I only figured out post-show that FOB means fresh-off-the-boat.) Overall, it’s a lot people, in a little space, for a short amount of time. It took me awhile to understand who is who? Even with the program as a guide, I still am not quite certain. The actresses playing the old ladies are hilarious. Time has warped their sense of religion and family history. Their sisterly bond is hand holding charming. They sidebar with mean-spirited sanctimoniousness. The target of their defection is Di-Gou (Arvin Jalandoon). Jalandoon reacts to his family’s lunacy with bittersweet simplicity.
The rest of the family is harder to sort out. They represent various types of living-in-America. They are each motivated by their own selfish needs. So, their active participation in the old ladies‘ prayer meeting seems unlikely. But it happens and the farce goes almost burlesque. I’ve seen all Chicago offerings of 2011 summer of Hwang. “Yellow Face” at Silk Road Theatre, “Chinglish” at Goodman Theatre, and now FAMILY DEVOTIONS at Halcyon Theater. The first two were much more playful than this final one. Seeing all three shows builds an understanding of the Asian-American community and an appreciation for Hwang’s portfolio. As one of his first plays, FAMILY DEVOTIONS has a cross to bear… and march around the room. It pokes fun of communism, religion, materialism, and barbecuing. Hwang had some statements to make about the 1980’s and he makes them in FAMILY DEVOTIONS.
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
by David Henry Hwang
Directed by Jenn Adams
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 3pm
Thru September 4th