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Play explores human struggle to find identity

By Daily Bruin Staff

Nov. 7, 2000 9:00 p.m.

  CLAIRE ZUGMEYER "The Theory of Everything" follows the
lives of seven Asian Pacific Americans struggling to find
themselves. The play will run through the Dec. 3.

By Kristen Lara
Daily Bruin Contributor

Without love and hope as guides for the journey, life may be
rendered little more than an empty progression toward death. For
some, hope takes the form of anticipating the next close encounter
with something out of this world.

In Prince Gomolvilas’ comedy, “The Theory of
Everything,” now playing at the Henry Hwang Theatre, the
journeys of seven Asian Pacific Americans (Thai, Pilipino, Chinese
and Japanese) converge on the rooftop of a Las Vegas wedding
chapel. Once a week, these seven characters faithfully scan the
night sky in the hopes of sighting a UFO. When one pivotal event
occurs, their wish materializes and each of their lives is
significantly altered.

The story unfolds as the characters’ lives intertwine and
then separate, until they are able to meet again, this time as
individuals with a renewed faith in love, each other and
themselves.

At the outset of the play, the audience meets Patty, the
proprietress of the “Chapel of Love,” played by Emily
Kuroda. Patty is an eccentric, Thai immigrant with an unshakable
faith in the existence of extraterrestrial life. She is the driving
force behind the group’s weekly gatherings.

She is joined by her mother, May, a 65-year-old woman played by
Marilyn Tokuda, whose fixed position on a lawn chair throughout the
show lends to the play an air of continuity. Amid the ensuing
confusion, the audience finds comfort in her invariable and
enigmatic presence. She proves to be a god-like figure, the
ultimate watcher allowing the events of the play that unfold before
her with an affected disinterest.

The audience is then introduced to Gilbert, played by Kennedy
Kabasares, and Lana, played by Michelle Chong. With these two
characters, the first major conflict occurs, when a distraught Lana
returns home after being kicked out of law school and dumped by her
boyfriend, only to receive an unwanted marriage proposal from
childhood friend, Gilbert.

In desperation, each turns for guidance to Nef, Lana’s
older brother and Gilbert’s best friend, played by Brendon
Marc Fernandez. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the
college-educated, philosophical Nef has unresolved issues of his
own.

  CLAIRE ZUGMEYER "The Theory of Everything," a play by
Prince Gomolvilas, debuts tonight at the Henry Hwang Theater in
Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. It is he who introduces the search for
the “theory of everything,” an idea that would explain
human existence, as well as the existence of the universe.

Throughout the first act, the audience initially receives a
blast of faith, hope and optimism introduced by Patty, her husband
Hiro, played by Ken Narasaki, and their close friend Shimmy, played
by Melody Bitiu. Yet, as the play unfolds and the characters
realize their loneliness and confusion, the positive buzz quickly
wanes and is replaced by a current of collective sadness and
disillusion.

What ensues is a complex interweaving of personal stories that
parallel each other on several levels. The separate stories of Nef
and Hiro, for instance, correspond with each other as each tells of
the struggle of an Asian male attempting to find his place in an
American society.

The play is interspersed with sometimes hilarious, sometimes
poignant and moving monologues, that allow the audience to shed
their impressions of characters that, at first, superficially
embody Asian stereotypes. Through these monologues, the characters
are rendered even more dynamic not only as their personalities
emerge, but also as they reveal their innermost thoughts, wishes,
hopes and fears.

The world premiere of Gomolvilas’ play, “The Theory
of Everything,” is produced by the East West Players, the
frontrunner of Asian Pacific American theater, in conjunction with
the Singapore Repertory Theatre. Directed by Tim Dang, “The
Theory of Everything” marks the first production celebrating
EWP’s 35th anniversary season.

Winner of both the International Herald Tribune Playwriting
Competition and the Julie Harris Playwright Award Competition,
Gomolvilas infuses his play with a humor that is at times
light-hearted, at times darkly sardonic. The success of the play
depends mainly on the cast’s ability to cleverly execute the
humor, in addition to keeping pace with each character’s
emotional highs and lows, and for the most part they are able to do
so.

Though several scenes, especially those of the younger
characters, seem slightly contrived, the performance has a quality
of genuine earnestness. In several scenes, Nef, Lana and Gilbert do
not come off as naturally as their counterparts, yet Kuroda’s
performance as a woman desperately searching for something to
believe in resonates with sincerity.

Overall, the play is well-executed, with several scenes stolen
by Narasaki, who infuses the perfect amount of comic energy into
his monologue, as well as by Butiu, who shines in her role as
Shimmy, a loud and outspoken, yet endearing Pilipina mother.

Throughout the play, the characters struggle with dreams and
false hopes, with loneliness and personal insecurity, with
confusion and uncertainty. The audience is able to identify with
their struggles of understanding the natures of their lives in the
context of a bigger picture.

Their struggles become a search for love, not only from others,
but also from within themselves. The play transcends cultural,
gender, sexual, and generational boundaries as eventually, the many
struggles evolve into a single quintessential human struggle to
find an identity against the overwhelming backdrop of the
universe.

THEATER: “The Theory of Everything”
is playing at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, 120 North Judge John
Aiso Street in Little Tokyo, downtown Los Angeles from Nov. 8 until
Dec. 3. Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8
p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For ticket pricing
and information call (213) 625-7000, or go to www.eastwestplayers.org.

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