Saturday, September 10, 2016

"The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up" by Mu Performing Arts at the Rarig Center Arena

The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up. It's a catchy title, although I'm not sure how descriptive it is. But I am sure that Two Kids is a fantastic new play and one that we sorely need. It's the story of a life-long friendship between an Asian American man and woman who meet as children when their mother and father begin a troubled relationship. While it's tempting to say these two characters are fascinating, complex, realistic people who just happen to be Asian American, that's discounting the impact that ethnicity, culture, and race have on their lives, on all our lives. Their ethnicity adds a level of specificity to these characters, and more importantly, it allows an often marginalized community to see themselves at the center of this very human, messy, funny, beautiful story. As a middle class white woman from the suburbs of Minnesota, I can never fully understand what it's like to rarely see yourself or your community represented on TV, in movies, and on the stage, or perhaps even worse, misrepresented. But I can recognize what a rare and beautiful thing this is. And it's also a smartly written and directed play, beautifully acted by two of the Twin Cities' best.

Diana (Sun Mee Chomet) and Max (Sherwin Resurreccion) meet when they're 9 years old, and their father and mother begin a messy affair that eventually turns into a messy marriage. But we meet Di and Max when they're 38, at the end of the story. Or rather, the end of the story that's told in these 90 or so minutes, because this is one of those plays where you imagine the story continues after the play ends. Playwright Carla Ching has written Di and Max's relationship as a series of scenes spanning the years between 9 and 38, arranged in a seemingly random order, from age 38, to age 9, to 24, to 15, and so on. For my fellow linear thinkers, the scenes are listed in the program so you can follow along and know where we are in time. But it's not necessary; the ages are revealed on the set, and Sun Mee and Sherwin expertly and specifically portray every age, from angsty teens, to dramatic 20-somethings, to wisened but still lost 30-somethings, and everything in between.

Max (Sherwin Resurreccion) and Diana (Sun Mee Chomet)
unpack their lives (photo by Ryan Melling)
The two-person play may be my favorite kind of play, because it's like one long conversation between two characters that you really get to know. No other characters or interferences to get in the way of the story of their relationship, whatever it is. Two Kids explores the complicated nature of relationships, and of our lives in general. Max and Di are at times siblings, friends, lovers, adversaries, and somehow more than all of that. At the end of the play, as we circled back to the beginning scene, I wondered what was next for our beleaguered couple, who had seen each other through marriages, break-ups, addictions, and death. I didn't come up with an answer, but I know they'll always be in each other's lives in some way; such is the nature of their friendship that is more than friendship.

The in-the-round stage at the Rarig Center Arena (full of memories from the recent Minnesota Fringe Festival) is littered with cardboard boxes. Or that's what it looks like at first, until boxes begin to be opened to reveal props and clothing, and to be used as tables, chairs, and a bar. Director Randy Reyes notes that the boxes represent "collecting things through a lifetime while moving from one place to another, through various relationships." The effect is a bit messy, not unlike the play, not unlike life. I wish the scene transitions were a little less lengthy, but I didn't mind it so much, because it's kind of fun watching actors change onstage, mumbling to themselves as the prepare for the next scene, transitioning from one age of the character to a completely different age. And the clothing changes are no simple adding of a hat or a jacket, but complete wardrobe changes, from winter coats to wedding dresses, adding more detail to who these characters are and where they are in their lives (set design by Sarah Brandner, costume design by Aaron Chvatal).

Two Kids (another play that came through The Playwrights' Center) is premiering in L.A. and in Minneapolis, as part of Mu's 25th Anniversary Season. It's playing only through next weekend and the Arena is small, but there are multiple shows during the week so you really have no excuse not to go see this fantastic new play (more info here).