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a Drama
by Chay Yew

COMPANY : Out Front Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Brady Street Theater [WEBSITE]
ID# 5438

SHOWING : February 07, 2019 - February 23, 2019



John is a 19-year-old gay Chinese-British man in London who works for his immigrant father’s restaurant and whose performance on his “A level” exams has won him acceptance for an upcoming term at Cambridge University. But he is restless, lonely and unsure of his identity. So he takes temporary solace in hooking up with strange men in public bathrooms. "Porcelain" is a suspenseful examination of an alienated young man’s life filled with mystery and murder.

"Porcelain" contains a scene depicting rape. Please be advised.

Director Matt Huff
Voice 3 Gil Eplan-Frankel
Voice 2 Joseph Johnson
Voice 1 Michael Short
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Chinese Origami
by playgoer
Monday, February 18, 2019
An auditorium with comfortable theatre seats and a proscenium stage. So where is the audience seated? Uncomfortable folding metal chairs on the stage, on three sides of a white square painted in the middle of the stage. In Paul Conroy’s scenic design, the white square has blue splotches on it (why?) and has red origami cranes scattered on it (to be augmented near the end of the play). Five straight-backed black chairs are on the lip of the stage, facing the spectators.

Matt Huff’s direction makes wonderful use of this black box set. Action flows nicely, with inventive use of the chairs and with actor placement ensuring interesting sightlines for all members of the audience. Charles Swift’s lighting design makes subtle changes to emphasize the action, contributing to the kinetic excitement of the piece. Eric Griffis’ costumes are nothing special -- casual clothes, sometimes topped with suit jackets -- but they allow the four "voices" to morph from character to character. Sound is supplied solely by the actors, which is a bit of a disappointment when reference is made to operatic arias playing under the action.

The story concerns "cottaging" -- the British term for men hooking up in public bathrooms. John Lee, the 19-year-old, college-bound son of Singapore Chinese immigrants, frequents them to orally service the men he meets there. When one, Tom Lane, invites him out for a drink and then invites him home for the night, a months-long affair starts. As the play begins, we hear broadcasters reporting on a murder at a public bathroom. As the action continues, we see John (Kevin Qian) being interviewed by a psychiatric investigator (Michael Short). Through the process of his investigation, we slowly learn the trajectory of the relationship between John and Tom (Tom Fish).

The title, "Porcelain," seems to relate to the main character’s Chinese heritage, to the materials used in bathroom fixtures, and to the blending together of two materials (clay and stone powder) to create something fragile but beautiful. The Japanese tradition of folding 1,000 origami cranes also enters into the symbolism of the play, along with a Chinese folk tale of a raven attempting to join a flock of sparrows. With Gil Eplan-Frankel portraying the crow, there’s a bit of unintended deja-vu, since Mr. Eplan-Frankel recently appeared in Steve Yockey’s "Reykjavik," which also featured crow characters. The sparrow-crow scenes are beautifully staged here.

Performances are all good. Joseph Johnson, as the fifth member of the cast, does some very nice character work, switching from role to role with ease and getting good laughs along the way. Mr. Fish is at his best as Tom, but switches to other roles as needed. Mr. Eplan-Frankel excels as a broadcaster and the crow, but also fills other roles. Mr. Short’s American accent, while explained in the script for the psychiatric investigator, seems to pop up at other times for other roles. Mr. Qian has a single role to play, and he’s adequate in the role, if perhaps less engaging in complexity than the role deserves.

Chay Yew’s play makes good use of the four "voices" to give movement and variety to the story-telling. The most exciting moments of the play are when lines leap from actor to actor, such as near the end when the final scene of John and Tom’s relationship is juxtaposed with the final scene of the opera "Carmen." The story-telling is perhaps more compelling than the grim story itself.

Out Front’s production of "Porcelain" moves briskly, with a finely honed ensemble and inventive staging tailor-made for a black box space. It’s not being performed in a black box space, though, and that harms the production. Audience members in hard metal chairs are no more comfortable than sitting on the closed lids of toilets, while they gaze longingly across the playing space to the rows of comfortable theatre seats just out of reach. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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