Desert Hearts


The Arizona desert doesn’t appear often on New York stages, but in Julia Cho’s The Architecture of Loss, its merciless sun and suffocating sand are literally everywhere, transforming New York Theatre Workshop into a white-hot wasteland where memories materialize like mirages and characters come and go with the abruptness of a flash storm. “There’s something about living in the desert day after day, month after month,” says the 28-year-old Cho, who grew up outside Phoenix. “Once there was a big storm that came out of nowhere, and I was home alone. It was scary and sudden and beautiful at the same time. The desert’s a place of many contradictions, and I wanted to bring a touch of that into a theater.”

For the broken family at the heart of Architecture, the climatic extremities of Southwestern life have seemingly warped their already frayed bonds—first in the sudden reappearance of their long-absent paterfamilias, Greg, and then in the revelation that the son, David, has been missing for eight years. For Cho, the characters’ mixed Korean and American heritage only intensifies their sense of alienation. “When my family would go to a Korean restaurant in Phoenix, there would be some Korean families, but it was mostly retired servicemen with their Korean wives,” she recalls. “It seemed like the women in that arrangement were very lonely and cut off.” Appropriately for a drama set in the desert, Architecture offers little emotional relief. “The play is about dealing with the never-ending experience of loss,” says Cho. “It’s about getting what you wanted after waiting for so long and having it not be quite what you wanted. It’s closure but not closure.”

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