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Nomad Motel

a Drama
by Carla Ching

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 5343

SHOWING : September 21, 2018 - October 21, 2018



Alix lives with her family in a tiny motel room, caring for her brothers while her newly single mom figures out a plan. Her classmate Mason lives alone in a grand, empty house, composing music while his absent father runs jobs for the Hong Kong mafia. Until the day his father disappears and Mason has to figure out how to come up with grocery money and dodge Child Services and U.S. Immigration. Mason and Alix develop an unlikely friendship, learning to scrape by and trying to outrun their parents’ mistakes together. A play about motel kids and parachute kids raising themselves and living without a safety net in a land of plenty.

Director Melissa Foulger
Alix Ashley Anderson
Oscar Marcellis Cutler
Fiona Liza Jaine
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The Motel Kid and the Parachute Kid
by playgoer
Friday, September 28, 2018
I’m not sure Carla Ching remembers what it was like to be a child. In both Aurora’s "The Two Kids..." and in Horizon’s "Nomad Motel," we have children portrayed as talking like and acting like 20-something adults. Since the plays seem targeted at that sort of audience, perhaps that’s not a bad thing, in terms of theatre financials. In terms of believability, well, that’s stretching things.

The action of "Nomad Motel" takes place in what supposedly is a good school district in Anaheim, California. Mason (Kevin Gian) is a "parachute kid" -- a Chinese boy left alone in America by his father to obtain a quality U.S. education. Alix (Ashley Anderson) is a "motel kid" -- a white American girl whose father has left the family, causing them to lose their house and stay in a motel. Another student, Oscar (Marcellis Cutler), is a black kid squatting in an abandoned storefront. All these kids are left pretty much alone to raise themselves, while at least Alix and Mason do well enough in school to aspire to first-class colleges.

The action takes place while they’re high school seniors. Mason has a passion for music, in opposition to his Chinese father’s desire for him to major in business. Alix’s mother is more involved with her boyfriend than with Alix or Alix’s two (unseen) younger brothers. Alix and Mason are partners in a school project concerning Shakespeare’s "King Henry IV, Part 2" (opening, by a happy coincidence, at the Shakespeare Tavern in early October), and that’s how they come together in a tentative relationship that drives the action of the play.

The ponderously massive set by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay is a brooding presence, crowding the playing space and adding another layer of unbelievability to the show. Stage right, we have a motel room on a platform that transforms into an abandoned storefront in act two. Stairs lead up and down from it just right of center. The rest of the set portrays the house in which Mason resides, with heavy marble accents and a cheap door and a kitchen pass-through with cheap folding shutters. The ground floor is the house’s living room, which Mason uses as his sole living space, with a sleeping bag down center and a music/computer set-up up center in front of the hearth, along with a few mismatched chairs. The second story of the house is above, with an elevator door above the fireplace opening to show us Mason’s father overseas during phone conversations. It’s far too heavy and clumsy for the content of the show, trying to force everyday reality onto a script that seems to be imagining a reality of its own.

Otherwise, the physical production is acceptable. Mary Parker’s lighting design goes a little heavy on effects, but works overall. Costumes by Dr. L. Nyrobi Moss aren’t very flattering and seem a tad varied for people living on the financial edge of penury, but don’t detract significantly from the play. Kathryn Muse’s props are good for a show that requires a number of food items, and David Sterritt’s fight choreography gets across the points that it needs to get across.

Sound design by Thom Jenkins is impressive, with Mr. Qian using a violin, his voice, and a loop pedal to make music at the start of the show. The only problem is that the music by composers Okorie Johnson and Mr. Qian tends toward the repetitious (a necessary side effect of looping), and the repetitious music amplifies the length of the scene changes. When a show lasts closer to three hours than the advertised two and a quarter hours, slow scene changes aren’t welcome. Director Melissa Foulger’s decision to stage the show with lots of real-world detritus slows down the show’s forward momentum.

What sells the show is the plot and the acting. Ms. Ching has created characters whose sad lives we become invested in. Kevin Qian has the tentative quality of a socially awkward teen, while Marcellis Cutler is all bad-boy bluster and crudeness. Liza Jaine does well enough as Alix’s mother, although the character of a superficially devoted mother who abandons her children doesn’t really ring true. Wai Yim is terrific as Mason’s father, his stern fatherly humorlessness creating humor of its own. Ashley Anderson is just plain wonderful as Alix, her street-wise bravado masking inner uncertainty. The riding-off-into-the-sunset ending of the story seems unnecessarily pat and artificial, especially given that the play seems to have been coming to a sweet conclusion before the parents re-enter and redirect things to extend the denouement.

"Nomad Motel" attempts to create a world of its own, with its teen protagonists inhabiting a world slightly removed from everyday reality. Horizon’s production, which relentlessly pushes the story back into the mundane, does the play no favors. Ms. Anderson, though, transcends the production, and she and Mr. Qian make the story of Alix and Mason come to life. We care about these two kids, unlike the two kids in Ms. Ching’s "The Two Kids..." [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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