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Theater Review (NYC): TBA by Carla Ching

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Carla Ching's new play, TBA, directed by Denyse Owens, is one of the central productions of Second Generation's celebration of its eleventh year. Of the production's fine qualities, first mention should go to it star, Lloyd Suh, an actor of remarkable talent, concentration, comic timing, and stamina.

Suh plays Silas Park, a Korean-American writer on the verge of major literary success. Obsessing over Maya (the excellent Michi Barall), the ex-girlfriend he still loves, Silas has withdrawn to his small East Village apartment and won't come out, even when solicited by Darren, an enthusiastic literary agent played by the droll Dustin Chinn, so hyperactive he constantly trips over his lines but so amusing you don't care.

Evoked effectively by Nick Francone's dusty-looking, dirty-window-laden set, Silas's humble but homey pad holds nearly all the action. This consists of Silas's interactions with Maya, with the agent, with his adoptive brother Finn (the solid J. Julian Christopher), and with Maxie, a restaurant worker who befriends the shut-in from the sidewalk below his window.

Next to Silas, Maxie is the play's most interesting character. She is played with assurance by Nedra McClyde, who I saw last year in Victor Woo. Here, rather than being asked to dance and sing, McClyde plays an intensely emotional woman with some secrets of her own. Her infiltration of Silas's rather wobbly orbit seems at first a forced plot device, but that changes.

"I don't like people, Darren," Silas tells the agent early on. "They freak me out." But much more than that – and much less – lies behind Silas's retreat into his urban version of hermithood, and it is the playwright's skill in holding things back and revealing them slowly and effectively that keeps the story, which might have been claustrophobic, flowing and tense.

Unfortunately this knack deserts her during a stretch of the second act, collapsing a chunk of the play into a flat, dry talkfest. The act could do with some cold-eyed tightening up. But a lovely final scene helps redeem it.

Ching is a gifted writer, both in the elevated style expressed by her writer-characters and in the everyday conversations she writes for all her creations. Now and then the shifts between poetic and realistic language feel a little abrupt or misplaced, as in the voicemail messages Silas leaves for Maya, which sometimes resemble the words of a melodramatic adolescent more than those of a successful literary figure in his thirties, much less of a normal man. But mostly, Ching's language leaps and twirls like the movements of a finely trained, gifted athlete. It shoots and usually scores. Quite often it's very funny.

Silas's tough-guy brother Finn, though less technically articulate than Silas the writer or Maya the actress, is a creature entirely of language. He arrives late in Act I to spur the plot, but stays to complete Ching's world of words. Played powerfully by Mr. Christopher, Finn, short for Phineas, is a street-hardened Latino with previously unsuspected stores of intellectual power. This angry, emotional creature bears a whiff of the Tennessee Williams type of tragic figure.

Suh is on stage for just about the entire two-hour play. Moving fluidly from a dry, comedic mode through various forms of squirming discomfort and pain, he even delivers a beautifully written, Shakespearean-style explanatory monologue with quiet conviction. In that and numerous other moments, Ching's poetic vision finds fulfillment in Suh's masterful performance.

Through April 5 at the Milagro Theater inside the CSV Cultural Center. Order tickets online or call (212) 352-3101. If you go… arrive early and try to grab front row seats, as the theater has a bit of a legroom shortage.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Mark

    I saw the play and thought was was great. The acting is wonderful and the set is very NYC! This show should do great and hopefully move on up.. all the way up to Broadway!