Theater Review: GARUDA’S WING (Magic Theatre)

by Barry Willis on June 16, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


The destruction of tropical ecosystems has been a worldwide concern since the 1960s. Through June 23, San Francisco’s Magic Theatre examines the crisis in a personal manner with Naomi Iizuka’s Garuda’s Wing,

Directed by prolific actor/director (and university professor) Margo Hall, it’s an eco-dystopian tale spanning approximately five decades in the jungle of Borneo. It begins in 2014 in a hut belonging to primate researcher Ellen Sewell (Nora el Samahy) working to save Borneo’s orangutans, the most intelligent and most gentle of the great apes.

Nora el Samahy & Juan Amador

Dismayed but still determined, Ellen tells visiting photojournalist Michael Suarez (Juan Amador) all about the jungle’s incredible biodiversity, a subject of great interest to him. She mentions the still mostly unexplored potential of medicines to be derived there, including a reference to her estranged husband, a biologist who’s left to join a biotech firm in the SF Bay Area. We never meet the husband, but it’s clear that profits were his primary motivation.

Catherine Castellanos

In a powerful interstitial scene, we meet explorer/botanist Julia Barrett (Catherine Castellanos), riffing insistently about Charles Darwin’s rival Alfred Russel Wallace, whose lost journal she hopes to find, much to her detriment.

Mia Tagano & Kina Kantor

We then move ahead ten years to the present day. Ellen’s jungle hut has been replaced by a New Age wellness retreat run by a charming and apparently well-intended woman named Alice Wilson-Lee (Mia Tagano). She has extended interactions with Ellen’s now-adult daughter, Diah Imazumi (Kina Kantor), who purports to have philanthropic motivations for visiting Borneo. Playwright Iizuka does a marvelous job of exposing the otherwise unexpressed nuances of  wealthy eco-tourists and those who serve them.

Jeunée Simon

The final scene takes place in 2058. The hut-turned-wellness-retreat has been replaced by a high-rise office building surrounded by a grim bare landscape, having been denuded by decades of rapacious clear-cutting. Pharmaceutical executive Grace Kibawa (Jeunée Simon), a high-achieving self-described “good Nigerian-American girl,” believes her company’s work is beneficial, despite evidence to the contrary visible from her office window. Her corporate delusions are punctured by a visit from an elderly “man of the forest” (Amador) who persuasively enumerates all that has gone wrong in the pursuit of profits.

Catherine Castellanos

Its name inspired by a tiny orchid, in turn inspired by a mythical God/human hybrid said to have wings strong enough to stop the earth from spinning, Garuda’s Wing is a fascinating 90 minutes made more compelling by good pacing, excellent acting, simple set changes, and superbly immersive projections by Joan Osato. It’s a powerful reminder of the abiding law of unintended consequences.

photos by Jay Yamada
poster design by Osige Creative

Garuda’s Wing
Magic Theater Company and Campos Santo
Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor
Wed-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on June 23, 2024
for tickets ($30 to $75, your choice, all seats GA), call 415.441.8822 or visit Magic Theatre


Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Circle and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:

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