Theater Review: KAIROS (East West Players)

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by William C. on April 11, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles


“He was immortal, so he couldn’t die, but this pain, it was agony — it was a wound that would never heal. So he begged the other deities to make him mortal. He knew that death was the only way to stop the pain.”

Sylvia Kwan

Laughter and pain are always lurking in the corner in the world of Kairos, written by the very talented Lisa Sanaye Dring. In this 80-minute play with no intermission, the audience is transported into a speculative fictional sci-fi world where immortality is within reach. But folks, do not let this premise lead you into expecting a Dune 2, or a majestic production with a large cast and musical numbers. Instead, the offering here is brutally bare, honest, and trim. With a stellar cast and the fantastic direction of Jesca Prudencio, Kairos unleashes a myriad of colors and shapes that the love between two people can take.

Sylvia Kwan and Gerard Joseph

Kairos resembles a time-lapse video of the relationship coming together and fizzling into an unrecognizable shape. The duo, Gina and David, are 30-something professionals who met under the misfortune of a car accident. Both single, unattached, and somewhat jaded about the dating scene, the two decide to make a go of seeing how far their meet-cute could take them. A series of scenes that are not unfamiliar to new love follows — meeting each other’s family, bickering, teasing, coming out of the closet as bisexual — just your average everyday love story. The elephant in the room between the two is Prometheus, a new scientific discovery of turning snail goo into the elixir for everlasting life.

Gerard Joseph and Sylvia Kwan

Like watching a car crash at a quarter of its original speed, two big ideas — love and the promise of immortality — slowly but surely envelope the protagonists into layers and layers of emotional entanglement. Despair, joy, trust, and broken promises all constantly unfurl quickly in the eventual climax. Then, the playwright gives us all a gentle coda by taking us forty years into the future, where our protagonist’s pain has been dulled by the passing of time, providing us with a sense of uneasy closure. What is left beyond betrayal?

Gerard Joseph and Sylvia Kwan

I’m being intentionally vague because giving away the synopsis will kill the experience. More importantly, the play is written in a mixture of poetry and prose, so I was constantly battling between pondering the big ideas here while doing my darndest to follow the twist and turns of the narrative arc. Oh, yeah, there are also plenty of F-bombs that often slap your face should your mind wander off too much.

Gerard Joseph and Sylvia Kwan

Sylvia Kwan, who plays Asian-American Gina, and Gerard Joseph, who plays African-American David, are fantastic and believable as the clandestine couple. Beyond the emotional work, I am particularly impressed with two different directorial choices by Prudencio. First is the body language between the two actors. Their physicality conveys much of the inner psychological struggles of the characters while giving clarity to their changing dynamic. Second, the challenging play asks for quick time changes and settings of the relationship, which must be a challenge for any actor. Kwan and Joseph have truly honed their craft, moving between scenes with ease and fluidity.

In the show’s denouement, Ren Hanami and William L. Warren (Woman and Man, older versions of Gina and David) give bittersweet performance of such high caliber that their delicious and palpable tension, which relied heavily on what was unsaid and what did not need to be brought up again, really choked me up.

 Ren Hanami and William L. Warren

The design team is a dream. Yi-Chien Lee‘s upside-down Sakura tree marries well with Szu-Yun Wang‘s lighting design. There is a reveal that Lee should be very proud of, an exuberant moment that left me in awe. Wang’s work is particularly memorable in a scene in which Gina struggles to reach out to her sister; her masterful timing and excellent illumination add tenderness and vulnerability. Bravo to both.

I highly recommend Kairos. Nothing comes close to being quite like it. And to those who are fans of breaking down narrative structure and/or witnessing a deep dive into the human condition, you will love this play. Just be careful; it will be living rent-free in your head for a while. Perhaps, like Gina and David, time will bring a sense of closure for me, too.

Gerard Joseph

photos by Jenny Graham

East West Players
David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street
ends on April 28, 2024
for tickets, call 213.625.7000 or visit East West Players

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Evie April 28, 2024 at 11:08 am

I attended this play on April 27. I wear hearing aids. I could not understand a word uttered by Sylvia Kwan as her voice was extremely high pitched. I took off my hearing aids and still could not understand a word she was saying. However I understood every word Gerard Joseph uttered with or without my hearing aids. Perhaps the reason I could not hear what Ms. Kwan was saying lies with the sound system. I was aware most people in the theater seemed to understand what she was saying and reacted vocally. Everything else about the play I could not enjoy, sorry to say.


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