From the Washington Post, Thursday,
April 22, 2002
Pieces of A Broken Heart
Beautiful moments don't often take place in public
men's rooms. But in Tsunami Theatre's "Porcelain," a restroom known for gay sex
is exactly where a bit of magic occurs for a young Chinese man named John, whose
story then turns even more desperate and tragic than the circumstances that led
him to search for love among the lurid.
"Porcelain" has begun even as the audience is entering the Warehouse
Theater, with 19-year-old John Lee (Kasima Tharnpipitchai) sitting in a sunken
part of the open stage, dressed in white and alternating between staring blankly
and making origami cranes from a roll of red paper that hangs nearby. The scene
seems to take place in a mental hospital; we soon find out that it's actually a
prison, but it doesn't mean that John isn't disturbed.
Four men dressed in black then accost the stage and approximate the
dizzying hyperstimulation of the outside world, at first mimicking rush-hour
traffic and then simultaneously relaying different news reports that feature the
same sensational story: a man found dead after being shot six times in a U.K.
bathroom popular for "cottaging," or anonymous encounters. John, who had been
discovered cradling the man's bloodied body, was arrested for the
Playwright Chay Yew unfolds John's predicament with an intricacy that's
deftly handled by director Mike Chamberlin and his excellent cast. The four
"voices" (James L. Beller Jr., Bob Lavoie, Alexander George and David Charles
Goyette) who serve as John's tortured subconscious here do double duty as
characters involved in the case. The action often jumps back in time as criminal
psychologist Dr. Worthing (Beller) questions John to gauge his sanity, and the
unrequited love story that's revealed is fortified by a subplot of a television
reporter, Alan White (George), who's using the murder as a frame to investigate
the underworld of cottaging.
"Porcelain," which debuted in London in 1992, covers a lot of ground in
its short running time, including bigotry, homophobia and the dark side of
all-consuming passion. Tsunami's production drags you all over the emotional map
with moments that often quicken or break your heart, including a re-creation of
John's anxious but exciting first meeting with Will (Goyette), the eventual
victim, who crushes John when he decides he's not gay; a devastating monologue
delivered by Lavoie as John's immigrant father, who's disowned his son and
expresses regret over leaving his native Singapore; and a gut-wrenching
portrayal of Will's final hour.
"Porcelain" does offer moments of levity, mostly courtesy of Beller's
turn as the neurotic, foulmouthed but slightly fey Worthing, and Lavoie's
transformation into a handful of sharp characters, including a clueless cop who
talks about his questionable arrest of someone on an indecent-exposure charge,
plus a number of Alan's other colorful interview subjects.
Tharnpipitchai, though, is "Porcelain's" quiet force as John, who
confesses to Worthing the aching loneliness and discrimination he felt as an
Asian in Britain that led to his hunger for Will's affection. Tharnpipitchai's
slight stature, gentle voice and polite posture even when John is being
defensive with Worthing make his character's anguished unraveling toward the
play's end all the more powerful.
Chamberlin does allow a few moments of melodrama to creep in -- a violin
score, for instance, turns John's confession that he "just wants to be held by
these men" into treacle. But the missteps of Tsunami's production are rare, and
its delicate handling of a subject at once sensitive, explosive and tawdry is
Porcelain, by Chay Yew. Directed by Mike Chamberlin. Set, Giorgos
Tsappas; lighting, Colin K. Bills; costumes, Frankin Labovitz; sound, Ron
Approximately 1 hour 40 minutes. Through May 16 at Warehouse Theatre,
1021 Seventh St. NW. Call 202-299-0320.