Theater Review: AS WE BABBLE ON (East West Players)

Post image for Theater Review: AS WE BABBLE ON (East West Players)

by Tony Frankel on June 12, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


In this unfortunate world premiere, the winsome cast begins with angry pessimistic post-millennial Benji (Will Choi), an Asian-American comic book artist whose boss — not seeing a need for the twentysomething’s Asian Superhero — has given a well-deserved promotion to a white dude instead. Benji wants to self-publish his character in a graphic novel, so he turns to his roomie and best friend Sheila (Jiavani Linayao) to promote his Kickstarter campaign on her über-popular streaming video show about her career, comeliness, and comestibles. But a conflict arises when she plans to win a baking competition and move out.

Depressed and drinking, Benji runs into his ex-boyfriend Vish (Sachin Bhatt), an Indian-American and successful app inventor who has been pumping iron since they broke up a year and a half ago. Mismatched as they are (both on paper and in the casting), the hunk and loser get back together.

Benji also has a sassy half-sister Laura (Jaime Schwarz) — a barista who wants to be a writer — who is asked out by the billionaire heir of a worldwide phone company (Bobby Foley as Orson). Just before the first date, Benji suggests she use their relationship as a way to write an exposé about his family on Buzzline — then she’ll be a famous writer!

East West Players proves itself a masterful company at getting grants to develop new works, but I’ll never understand how Nathan Ramos’s As We Babble On won an EWP playwriting competition. In preparation for the mid-21st century when minorities are predicted to be the majority in the U.S., it’s obviously more important right now to have characters who are minorities rather than minority characters inside a good story (we don’t even get backstory on siblings Benji and Laura). Even with some funny moments and good points, it’s silly, sloppy, sophomoric, and shallow. And while Benji may be the main character — there really is no protagonist because nobody really has an arc (the quick-speed wrap-up resolutions at the end are preposterous); the characters are a bunch of index cards with attributes.

It also feels very much like so many gay fantasy movies in which the self-loathing nerd gets the kind understanding stud even as they’re wholly incompatible (why else would director Alison M. De La Cruz allow the gorgeous Mr. Bhatt to unnecessarily strip down to his undies?). And the post-millennial babble-speak is so pervasive that it becomes alienating; and because much of the dialogue is topical the play becomes dated by curtain call. (Even the title escapes me: does Mr. Ramos mean that these people are so engaged in meaningless prattle that they can’t see right in front of them? or is it a reference to the New York city of Babylon [this takes place in NYC]? or does it have to do with the ancient city known for luxury and wickedness?)

The script cemented for me just how lost this generation is, having been born in a world of personal and career promotion and cell-phone socializing — where people define themselves by their existence on electronic platforms. And while I admire Mr. Ramos’s candor about his generation’s selfishness, this endurance-test-of-an-evening (the intermission of which was removed on opening night) is all about becoming or being rich and famous; whining; babbling; and gossiping (the latter is probably due to this generation’s avoidance or incapability of telling stories). If Mr. Ramos had his finger on society’s pulse, he would know that while his generation is continually glomming onto racism as its problem (four of the five characters here claim victimization), anarchy and class warfare are the monsters to look out for.

One of the greatest eruptions of applause at the opening night of Soft Power, David Henry Hwang’s audaciously entertaining but equally messy new musical, came when a character bemoans that there aren’t more Asian-American playwrights. I suspect that the roar was about — among many other things — appropriation and assimilation of the Asian-American community in the theater. But I’m simply curious why there aren’t more great playwrights, period.

photos by Michael Lamont

As We Babble On
East West Players in association with the Los Angeles LGBT Center
David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on June 24, 2018
for tickets, call 213.625.7000 or visit East West Players

Comments on this entry are closed.