Cole Horibe has chops. Strikes, feints, and jabs, too. Horibe kicks and punches his way through Kung Fu, David Henry Hwang’s theatrical encomium to Bruce Lee. But while Horibe is a wonderfully communicative dancer, with deft feet and serpentine hips, he lacks Lee’s staggering magnetism. Hwang’s script, however lithe and dexterous, also seems wanting. Mostly a bioplay, not quite a drama, and kind of a dance piece, Kung Fu is a collection of spirited scenes in search of structure.
Leigh Silverman’s Signature production begins with Lee returned to America after a Hong Kong childhood. The script pushes forward and backward, delineating Lee’s attempts to break into showbiz while recalling his fractious relationship with his Cantonese opera star dad (Francis Jue). This fraught father-son dynamic harkens back to Hwang’s masterful Yellow Face. (Jue played the father there, too.) But Kung Fu lacks that earlier play’s impact, despite kinetic choreography by Sonya Tayeh.
Kung Fu explores how Lee’s vigorous self-creation chafes against Hollywood’s limitations, but it ends before his early death and posthumous fame. It’s a generous move, which leaves Horibe’s Lee at the peak of his abilities, yet it bypasses the dramatic irony that would have given the piece a more certain form: that this inestimably strong body could prove so suddenly frail.