Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of Yoga Play
Set in a small Nevada town, the 95-minute, no-intermission drama explores the contemporary realities of working-class life. Don (Jonathan Walker) worked his father's ranch until it was no longer productive to do so. He's currently employed as a service contract worker, and he's gone to Hector (Adrian Anchondo) to check on how he's notified for work on his phone. Hector tries to explain the algorithm he's devised that assigns the most work to the best performers, but Don asserts that his status as a long-time resident of the town should mean that he's assigned more. The two fight, Don explodes, and Hector makes sure that Don is not only fired but that a lawsuit is filed against him.
Don's wife Sigourney (Omozé Idehenre) and his daughter Katie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) try to rally around him. But Sigourney has injured her back and is on disability, and Katie is striving, unsuccessfully, to leave for a university degree program in Austin.
If the plot seems banal from a surface description, it doesn't in the telling. Mr. Lee confounds expectations at many turns, including playing with stereotypes (Don is white, Sigourney is black, Katie is mixed-race; Hector assumes that Katie will be an ally because they are both millennials; Don's bar buddy Randy, played by Mike Sears, is both funny and wise; cell phones are important regardless of age or station). And the audience has to stay engaged, because if they don't they will surely miss something important.
In fact, the structure of the play is so seamless that only later does one realize there are missing scenes that are very important to the plot. The scenes can be imagined after the fact, and the storyline works perfectly well without them. Imagining the missing scenes puts the characters in a whole new light, however. Motivations are revealed that may have stayed hidden, and relationships that may have seen to operate on one principle turn out to operate on another.
The cast plays this ambiguity expertly, and Patricia McGregor's direction undoubtedly has a major role in the quality of the performances. Because the production is staged in the Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, which is configured in the round, audiences can easily see the cast's nuanced reactions to each other throughout. There were no false moves that I could discern, but clues to characters' inner states of mind were present, though perhaps not assigned much importance until after the fact.
That's the wonderful thing about What You Are. It's highly engaging in the moment, and it becomes even richer as one thinks about it afterward.
The one drawback to the in-the-round configuration is that Rachel Myers' scenic design becomes necessarily cramped, as several different locales are needed. Furniture rolls on and off between scenes, and Sherrice Mojgani's lighting design is the key element in designating the playing area for each scene. Elisa Benzoni's costume design looks right for the characters, and Luqman Brown's sound design nicely allows the audience to hear clearly characters who may be facing away from them.
The Globe's careful stewardship of its commission has insured that What You Are received the highest quality world premiere. I have no doubt that the present production will not be its last.
What You Are, through June 30, 2019, at The Old Globe's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Performances are Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm Tickets are available by calling 619-234-5623 or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.