Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
July 25, 2014
Adopted children often have a disrupted sense of identity, a fear of abandonment, and a feeling of being an outsider. But when their unknown birth mother is 10,000 miles away, the sense of disconnection is even more profound.
That’s certainly the case with Jade, the centerpiece of “Jade Heart, a West coast premiere by Chicago playwright Will Cooper, now at Moxie Theatre.
Artistic director Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg brings her signature simplicity and warmth to the production, abetted by a stellar design team.
Tautly stretched strings artfully comprise the set, suggestive of heartstrings and, when given a rosy glow, the red strings that ankle-tie two people meant to be together, according to Chinese belief.
Jade was left in a vegetable cart in a Chinese market. When American divorcée Brenda McCullough flew to China to adopt a baby, and was paired with Jade, it was love at first sight. But Brenda insists that Jade become totally American, not in any way Chinese. She chafes when Jade wants to know more about the language, the culture – and the mother who abandoned her.
The narrative toggles back and forth in time, in and out of dream states, as Jade imagines meeting her birth mother. The dialogue, characters and relationships are smart and sharp, but the viewpoints are re-stated repetitively. The two-hour piece could be considerably pared down.
Still, it’s getting a beautiful, heartful production, with a strong and convincing cast, centered by Dana Wing Lau as intelligent, independent Jade, and Julie Sachs as her well-meaning but overprotective mother. Sonnenberg makes excellent use of opera singer Joyce Lai, who opens and closes each act with soaring Chinese songs. In several roles, Albert Park is credible, as always, and Dana Byrne is an authentic addition. Masks are used to excellent effect in the China scenes; the lighting, sound and costumes enhance the bicultural sensibility.
As the set symbolically reminds us, each of us longs for ties that bind and connections with no strings.
“Jade Heart” runs through August 10, at Moxie Theatre in the College area.
©2014 PAT LAUNER