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A review of Kyoung H. Park's Tala A review of Kyoung H. Park's Tala
by Joseph Gatt
2021-05-02 08:26:41
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Samuel Beckett in “Waiting for Godot” features a dialogue between two homeless men, Didi and Gogo waiting for someone whose name is “Godot” but “Godot” never shows up. The absurdity of Beckett's play touches me deeply, and Beckett's thematic is universal. We all have our “Godot” in our life; someone or something we are waiting for, but that never shows up. Godot could be money, could be a prized job, could be a long-lost friend, could be an ex we never really broke up with, could be a crush who disappears from our circle and never comes back, could be a son or daughter in college who never calls.

tala0001_400Kyoung H. Park's play features Pepe and Lupe, two characters loosely based on Didi and Gogo.

The play is strange. It lasts for about 90 minutes, and streams kind of like a long dream the author had, with all the ambiguities, eccentricities, and nonsense some dreams can have.

Apparently Pepe and Lupe are on a date in some remote Chilean island called Chiloe. The date is not a picnic (although the play does feature glowing eggs, something that remotely resembles wine and sex toys).

The dialogues resemble those dialogues we have in our dreams, a succession of unrelated babbling. Something about revolution, something about love, something about dating. It's not clear whether Pepe and Lupe are on their first date. Some parts of the dialogue appear to indicate that Pepe and Lupe never met before; others seem to indicate they have known each other for years.

And then there's a third actor/character called Kyoung, based on the author's autobiography. The author's character, Kyoung, does not tell the story of his life in chronological order, but it's a series of anecdotes, most of them provocative, such as when the author got circumcised or when the gay author lost his virginity.

The play's actors are really in two plays. One part of the play is Pepe and Lupe's date. The other side of the play is reenactments of the author's traumatic life events, such as a “nasty” breakup with his ex-boyfriend. For the record, my breakup with my ex was a lot nastier than that, and involved a six month game where she wouldn't pick up the phone or call for weeks, before calling a friend and telling that friend to tell me what to do, as if we were still dating (engaged in fact).

Now I don't like being too harsh with criticism. The play does deserve a little bit of praise. It's an experimental play, and I like how the author mixes acting with videos, both filmed videos created specifically for the play, and snippets of documentaries on the September 11, 1973 Chilean coup d'Etat. So I did learn a little bit of stuff about Chilean history.

And to give more praise to the play, it does address an important issue: how to you date during uncertain times, in times of war or revolution or political strife. The play addresses the issue where you're on a date but you could get drafted for war at any point, and you will have to pick sides during the revolution.

But, to criticize the play a bit, this is an off-off-off-Broadway play. It kind of reminds me of when I was younger and would attend high school and college theater festivals. I was a big fan of those, and would watch a succession of amateur plays, all with their awesomeness and quirks. But those are indeed amateur plays.

At most amateur theater festivals, plays have a 40 minute limit, specifically because when in comes to amateur plays, anything over 40 minutes will tend to get the audience's feet itching.

When it comes to Tala, there's no beginning, and I can't spoil it because there's no ending. It's a sequence of (often unrelated) events, just like in a (bad) dream.

Now in classical theater, plays usually evolve in chronological order. Some playwrights like to experiment with chronology and use flashbacks. I've also seen quite a few plays where the “ending” is at the beginning and the play evolves to explain how the characters came to that “ending.”

So while I did have a good time watching the play, the advice I would give the author would be two-fold: one, get rid of symbols and focus on acting and text. I tend to dislike plays that use so many provocative symbols that you can no longer focus on the story.

The second advice I would give the author is one thing I tell every author: write a succession of good plays (or books) and work hard on producing them. When you've had a series of good books (or plays) that's when real journalists will come asking you for backstories and biographical information. Don't include the back story in the play.  

Indeed, the author, Kyoung H. Park, tends to use so many political and racial symbols in his plays, along with LGBT provocative symbols, and those symbols, for my money, compensate for lack of substance in the story. Tell a good story, get rid of the symbols, use text and not symbols, and you'll do fine.

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