'Hit': Theater Review
Laurel Ollstein's play, starring Kahyun Kim and Justin Huen, focuses on dysfunctional families and functional friendships.
For her latest play, Hit, writer Alice Tuan says she meant to write about characters of different races involved in an intense drama and “not the usual mix of color without meaning.” It’s hard to tell how to interpret that last bit but whatever she means, Hit only touches on the subject of race and places comedy over drama. In fact, the Los Angeles Theatre Center website calls it a “psychosexual romp.” The problem isn’t so much how to label Tuan’s new play but that it’s not clear she and director Laurel Ollstein are even on the same page. As a result, Hit, a potentially fresh and humor-filled look at functional friendship and dysfunctional family, is unfocused, thematically thin and tonally abstruse.
Kim (Kahyun Kim) is on her way home from what she calls a culture whore gig, one where her ethnicity is exploited to illustrate the sponsor’s cultural diversity. “Diversity is to get people to buy into a world where white is still at the center,” she says in one of the play’s more provocative lines. A fender bender introduces her to Mank (Justin Huen), a tattooed type of indeterminate ethnicity, and the two go to her apartment for her auto insurance info (yes, really) where Kim throws herself at him.
When we meet Kim’s mother Sharon (Carolyn Almos), she’s drunk again with her long time partner, Luc. Their affair has taken them around the world landing them in Los Angeles where she is an economics professor in a local college. Miserable and obese, Sharon has no idea that for years Luc has been secretly sleeping with Kim, whom she rescued as an orphan on the streets of Seoul.
Unaware of her daughter’s secret, Sharon and Kim share a rocky relationship typified by the usual mother-daughter bickering but without any of the love. As such, it’s hard to identify them as family at all, which might be the point. Kim chafes at being adopted, deriding Sharon as a neo-liberal patting herself on the back, but we never truly get to the bottom of why there’s so little love between these two.
Adding to the hyperbole is Kim’s love for Mank, whom she barely knows. A student of Sharon’s, Mank is looking for the love of his life, Serena, a former one-night stand whom he barely knows. And Serena is in town visiting Kim, her best friend since childhood.
On top of the many coincidences are over-the-top contrivances – as in the last act when a slimmed down Sharon, armed with a weapons-grade bag of liposuction fat, finally learns of Luc’s affair with Kim and punishes him in a way that would make Caligula blush.
Leaving the theater, it’s hard to know what to think of Hit, except that there might be a good play in there somewhere. Unevenly paced, it could use some tightening, but more than anything it could use a rudder.
Director Ollstein elicits uneven performances from an uneven cast led by Kahyun Kim, who is effervescent at times and grating at others. She works well in the moment but seems to lack a clear overview of her character. As such, it’s difficult to see what Kim wants and how she hopes to get it.
Almos steals the show as Sharon, the needy overweight provider whom everyone dumps on. Almos more than anyone in the cast seems to have a firm bead on her character who is both bright and interesting, and at the same time, she is cloying, pathetic and self-loathing.
As Mank, Justin Huen convincingly brings life to a one-dimensional character dedicated to marrying a near stranger, which makes him either a romantic fool or just a regular fool. But judging by the play’s unromantic tone, I’ll have to go with the latter.
Taylor Hawthorne is the object of his affection, similarly smitten but trying to protect her best friend by deploying Mank to seduce Kim away from Luc. It seems like natural a rom-com set up that Ollstein and Tuan execute as though it were serious drama.
While her new play feels undeveloped, Tuan offers unique and outrageous situations as well as some clever observations on multi-culturalism and liberal hypocrisy. With some polishing and reworking, Hit just might have real hit potential, just not in its current form.