Steppes Toward Chaos

Tom Stoppard's three-part drama rides Russia's runaway troika; Durango takes immigrant America on the road

Another father-son conflict, with equally troubling historical implications, is the core of Julia Cho's small-scale but beautifully sustained play Durango, being given at the Public Theater in an equally beautiful production by Chay Yew. Cho's writing here displays a balance and compassion more genuinely Chekhovian than anything in Stoppard's Russia. A Korean American widower, laid off by downsizing, takes his two sons on a road trip to cover up his joblessness; he discovers in its course that both sons have secrets to cover up as well, while the deeper motive behind the trip turns out to be the biggest secret yet. Cho uses this seemingly familiar material to touch a wide variety of bases, so that her terse, intimate scenes constantly reach out to embrace larger meanings without ever falsifying her characters. The typically American aspects of the story get constantly refreshed by their juxtaposition with the father's old-country mores, giving the evening a quintessential quality without any recourse to pumped-up language or abstraction.

The aristocrats: Hawke and Easton
photo: Paul Kolnik
The aristocrats: Hawke and Easton

Details

The Coast of Utopia, Part I: Voyage
By Tom Stoppard
Vivian Beaumont Theater
150 West 65th Street
212-362-7600

Durango
By Julia Cho
Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
212-967-7555

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Cho's free-form technique, too, displays the joyous assurance of a writer at the top of her game. One of her elegant devices is to create the figure of the deceased wife for us by having each of the three male principals replay a remembered scene in which he speaks her lines. Yew handles these, like the play's other departures from realism, with elegant discretion, gracefully abetted by Paul Whitaker's lighting. James Yaegashi and Jon Norman Schneider are excellent as the sons, and James Saito, his careworn face lined like crackle-glaze porcelain, carries the father's emotional burdens with moving dignity.

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