Cowboy Up

Show #44: Macho Bravado, Asian-American Theater Company, April 10.

Mayra Gaeta and Michael Uy Kelly in Macho Bravado. Photo by Conrad Corpus

It’s been good to see Asian-American Theater Company producing a full season again after a couple years’ hiatus and a couple changes of management. But truth be told, I’ve been disappointed with the first couple of plays the company has produced this season, the world premieres of Aurorae Khoo’s Fayette-Nam and Philip Kan Gotanda’s #5 Angry Red Drum.

Going to see AATC’s latest world premiere, Alex Park’s Macho Bravado, I was concerned that its subject matter sounded like almost a companion piece to Fayette-Nam, a play I’d particularly disliked. That one had an African-American soldier about to be shipped to Iraq hiding out with an Asian-American family in North Carolina, while this one’s about a Wyoming Asian-American soldier back from Iraq and having trouble readjusting to life with his wife’s German-American family.

Fortunately the third time’s the charm, and Macho Bravado turns out to be a compelling drama by Bay Area playwright Park, whose play Rental Car AATC previously developed and premiered in 2004. It’s a strong script strengthened further by co-artistic director Alan S. Quismorio’s sharp staging and some powerful performances from the five-person cast.

We enter to hear Lyle Lovett playing and see a simple living room set by Fred Sharkey in which the wallpaper’s peeling away in an upper corner of each of the blue walls, giving a sense of things falling apart that’s invisible to the people inside the room. There’s a baby cradle in the foreground and a few toys scattered around. A still picture of a cowboy on horseback is on the TV set that provides titles announcing the time and place throughout the show, and appropriate news coverage in between in Bill Fanning’s apt video montage.

The play opens ominously, with Michael Uy Kelly as Evan staring at the baby cradle with a golf club raised as if to take a swing at it. A cocky, bald-headed Korean-American cowboy from Wyoming, he’s just returned, wounded, from his third tour in Iraq. He’s having trouble adjusting to California life in Palo Alto, where his wife, Lindsey, has some unspecified tech job. He’s traumatized by the war, jumping at loud sounds and especially at fireworks. He’s withdrawn and moody, avoiding his friends and getting into fights, usually messing up the other guy pretty badly. Most of all, he’s nagged by a suspicion bordering on certainty that their baby isn’t his.

The play jumps around in time frequently, first to Evan and his future father-in law back in Wyoming yelling racial epithets at each other as old man Otto forbids Evan to date his daughter. The two boast at each other about who’s a bigger good ol’ boy, Evan talking about the wild horse he broke last night and finally starting to win the Vietnam vet over when he says he’s going to West Point. The two eventually develop a strong rapport built on macho camaraderie and drunken war-story one-upmanship, and some of the scenes between Kelly’s glowering Evan and Brian O’Connor’s whisky-soaked Otto just hanging out are among the strongest in the show. Kelly gives a haunting sense of the barely contained aggression and closed-offness of Evan at the same time that he clearly loves the people around them and is trying his best to reconnect.

The male characters are much more developed and nuanced than the female ones—by far the weakest writing is in a mother-daughter scene between Lindsey and her long-suffering mother, Bonnie, whose rocky life with Otto Lindsey’s determined not to repeat with Evan.  “Determined” is an odd word to use with Lindsey, however, because her reaction to most turns of events is pretty passive. Mayra Gaeta’s particularly appealing as Lindsay in early scenes with Evan, as she bubbily and flirtatiously tries to recall him to life. But as things start to turn sour she begins to shut down, either shrugging them off with a passive-aggressive “whatever” or exploding into ineffectual tantrums. They’re understandable reactions, but not the most dramatically interesting or sympathetic. The more she talks in the latter part of the play, the more ground she loses.

Some overdone drunkenness aside, Rob Dario gives a good sense of someone who thinks of himself as a super nice guy but may not be very good at it as Justin, Evan’s doctor and Lindsey’s college friend from Stanford, whose very presence in the play is unnerving. Janice Wright is terrifically down-to-earth as Bonnie, who you can sense is the quiet rock in Lindsey’s parents’ relationship long before you see her talking Otto down from his war ghosts catching up with him.

It’s not all psychodrama by any stretch of the imagination: it’s funny at times, and the way the cast captures characters at different ages is particularly effective. The ending still feels a little rough, but on the whole the play gives a powerful sense of how the mere fact of soldiers going off to war can destroy marriages, between the long absence, the worrying, the trauma, and the baggage the soldier brings home.

Macho Bravado plays through April 24 at Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco.

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment