Monday, May 11, 2015

Breaking Glass—Theatre Diaspora at Artists Rep—SW Portland

A Glass House of Broken People

This is a MediaRites Project as an introduction to a new Asian-American theatre company.  The next production takes place at Portland Center Stage on Sunday, May 17th at 2 pm, for tickets visit http://goo.gl/to37BA. It is written and directed by Dmae Roberts.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrediaspora.org


Glass is fragile, it is transparent, it can be colored and it is easily broken.  It suggests the end of something…but, perhaps, the beginning of something new, too.  It suggests change or evolution.  Beauty can be made from broken glass. 

Most families have a certain amount of dysfunction within the unit, simply by the fact that each person is different, having different dreams and needs.  In this case Mei Jen (Elaine Low), the mother of the clan, is Taiwanese and has her own views of how children should be raised.  But Buddy (Bruce Burkhartsmeier), her husband, is a white American, and is not necessarily of the same mind.  The clashing of two cultures is passed on to their children.

Jimmy (Samson Syharath), the son, is a quiet soul, made fun of by his schoolmates because of his race.  A reclusive sort who finds solace in making art out of broken glass (not unlike Laura in The Glass Menagerie).  But he finds a friend in Monica (Zoe Anderson), a special needs student, who sees the sensitive soul he really is and can appreciate that.  But the main character, Ricki (Tonya Jone Miller), finds the turmoil to be too much.  She must work in the mill to earn money, with her mother and Monica, but her heart is drawn to the big city and a college education.

And they all have their dream life where they are the heroes.  Mei Jen has a very successful restaurant with her family in supportive roles.  Jimmy is in deep space with his fearless crew fighting off invaders.  But dreams and reality don’t often mesh.  And when something traumatic happens in this family, it comes to a head and lives are changed forever.  I can’t tell you more for fear of revealing discoveries an audience must make.

This play (Roberts) resonates with the ring of truth, meaning that it must be personal for the author on some levels.  Also the dialogue has a natural rhythm to it, a sense of authenticity and reality, much like Shephard’s and Mamet’s dialogue.  And the story is universal.  (I loved the dream sequences.)  Although many families may not be of mixed heritage, they all have the angst of growing up and growing outward into the bigger world.  This is definitely a play that will be thought-provoking and worth seeing.

The cast is well chosen and very good.  Low (having been in the play 20 years ago) is wonderfully dynamic as the mother, showing us the conflicted sides of how she was raised, but now dealing with the reality of raising her own children in a totally different environment.  She gives a well-rounded portrayal.  Burkhartsmeier is an old pro in theatre around here and he shows he’s still got the chops for it.  Again, a conflicted man, trying his best to keep his wife happy, but understanding the need for his children to spread their wings.  A heart-breaking performance.

Syharath, as the brother, reveals what can happen to a sensitive soul trapped in an insensitive world.  His gentle portrayal is touching.  Anderson (borrowed from the PHAME Company) is totally convincing as compassionate soul who has no way of hiding her feelings.  She is just fine and your heart goes out to her character.  And Miller, as the focus point of the story, is excellent as the daughter, trying to make both worlds work, but seeing it may be a futile effort.  She definitely has some talent and I hope to see her again onstage.


I recommend this show and you should check out the company for future productions of plays.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.