Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Kentucky. It was by Leah Nanako Winkler and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a woman named Hiro (Emjoy Gavino) who is coming back to her hometown in Kentucky for her little sister Sophie's (Harmony Zhang when I saw it, usually Hannah Toriumi) wedding--to talk her out of it. Sophie is now a born-again Christian and is marrying the pastor's son Da'Ran (Ian Voltaire Deanes). She feels guilty for leaving her sister and her mother, Masako (Helen Joo Lee), with an abusive father and husband James (Paul D'Addario), so she returns to try to get them to come to New York with her. It is about what home is, lost connections, and different types of love. I think this is an insanely well-written show with fantastic actors and great direction. It was overall an amazing show.
At first I thought that this was going to be a play about the damage that religion has done to families and the world and that I would be rooting for Hiro to rescue her sister. But instead it has a highly respectful view of religion even if the main character doesn't agree with religion as a concept. It shows how some people need religion in their lives to survive and some people don't find comfort in that and how these two types of people can cohabitate and love each other. I liked that the minister, Ernest (Michael E. Martin) and his wife, Amy (Jessica Vann), despite the usual stereotypes, were genuinely nondiscriminatory and kind Kentucky Christians. The Christians in this play, their religion is based on love and forgiveness. So even when Sophie's father lashes out and yells at his own family and his daughter's new family, they forgive him because that is what they believe is right.
I really like this playwright's dark humor, and I especially liked it in this show. When Masako found out that her beloved cat Sylvie (Martel Manning) had died, she was so devastated that she carried around the body in a Cheesecake Factory bag from the rehearsal dinner. This at first seemed funny because it was a callback to two separate things--the cat dying (which was, at first, performed as a comedic bit) and going to Cheesecake Factory (which everyone except for Hiro was much too excited about). But then it becomes a depressing scene of her cradling and singing to her dead cat because she felt like Sylvie was the only living thing that loved her. It shows really layered writing, which gives the audience multiple things to hone in on. There is also one section where Hiro and her high school friends (Emilie Modaff and Maryam Abdi) are out at a bar and start counting how many people at their school died in motorcycle accidents and from drug overdoses. But then when Hiro actually encounters Adam (Manning), whose friend died from a drug overdose, she sees him as a real person instead of this faceless victim. This play has dark humor, but it also uses a character's realizations about dark humor to further her development.
People who would like this show are people who like good Kentucky Christians, the fear of becoming your parents, and Cheesecake Factory caskets. I think this is the perfect dark family dramedy. The relationships within the show are amazing, the play is performed wonderfully, and it is written and directed perfectly. I love it so much.
Photos: Claire Demos