Reviewed by Judy Richter
On the surface, the couple having drinks during a first date would seem to have little in common. He -- 70, white, rich owner of a hugely profitable business. She -- 33, Asian, director of a nonprofit providing the arts for kids. But there's much more to them than meets the eye in "Love in American Times." This two-act play by Philip Kan Gotanda is receiving its world premiere at San Jose Repertory Theatre under the direction of artistic director Rick Lombardo.
Jack Heller (J. Michael Flynn) and Scarlett Mori-Yang (Linda Park) were brought together by a matchmaker because each has qualities the other seeks. Jack, who's far from refined despite all his wealth, wants an attractive, smart trophy wife. Scarlett wants access to wealth and a husband to father children with her. As the evening progresses, they find they have even more in common, including working class families and childhood tragedies. They negotiate an agreement that's closer to a corporate merger than a pre-nup.
One aspect of their agreement is that he will spend Christmas with his ex-wife and two adult children and without her. Instead, she's free to go to South America on a shopping spree with her girlfriends. Act 2 takes place Christmas Eve, when the Heller family is preparing to celebrate the holiday on his luxurious yacht. Ex-wife Abby (Rosina Reynolds) is angry with him. She's eager for their son, Edward (Craig Marker), and his wife, Lyonee (Zarah Mahler), to have a baby. Daughter Sophie (Arwen Anderson) has serious addiction problems with drugs and alcohol and has been in and out of rehab. Their gathering is interrupted by Scarlett's arrival, which triggers an emotion-fraught conclusion.
Lombardo elicits outstanding performances by the entire cast, especially Flynn and Park. The others, including Gabriel Marin, play a variety of minor characters, doing well in each incarnation. The production features sets by Robin Sanford Roberts, smart costumes by Cathleen Edwards, lighting and media by David Lee Cuthbert, original composition and sound design by Tamara Roberts and fight choreography by Dave Maier.
Racial aspects of the pairing between Jack and Scarlett aren't played up in Gotanda's script. Instead he looks at the implications of money and power in American society as well as its emphasis on youth. The first act is an intriguing verbal match between the two leads, but there might be a few spots that could be tighter. The second act isn't quite as well developed, but it holds one's interest nevertheless. Overall, "Love in American Times" is both thought-provoking and entertaining -- a nice combination.