Is there a culture in which soup isn’t the answer to any food or illness issue?
There’s as much philosophy as plot in Julia Cho’s “Aubergine,” playing through Feb. 17 at San Diego Repertory Theatre. Todd Salovey directs.
This meditation on food, family heritage and death in a Korean American family wraps extended monologues from five characters around a plot that explores how food anchors us to our heritage. It also tiptoes into the slippery territory of what it means to be human.
The play’s title (the French word for eggplant) clues you in that food is important, and opens with a long monologue by Diane (Amanda Sitton), an admitted foodie who waxes downright poetic about a particularly wonderful pastrami sandwich her father made for her when she was eight years old in Los Angeles.
The plot establishes that restaurant chef Ray’s father (Dana Lee) was not supportive of his son’s occupational choice, but now the hospital tells Ray (Brian Kim) that his dad does not have long to live and suggests that Ray take him home so he can die among his family. They promise a visiting nurse and other support.
Ray does that – setting up a bed in the living room -- and finds visiting nurse Lucien (the excellent Terrell Donnell Sledge) not just helpful, but downright prescient. When Ray confides that he’s almost afraid to leave the house for fear of missing dad’s last breath, Lucien (who has seen a lot of death) tells him that’s not the issue: a dying person will choose whether or not he wants to die alone.
Ray calls no-nonsense ex-girlfriend Cornelia (Audrey Park) for help explaining his dad’s condition to Ray’s uncle in Korea (Yong Kim), because her Korean is much better than his. She balks, but agrees, setting up some amusing communication breakdown scenes. Korean is sometimes used, and translations flashed on the backdrop.
Is there a culture in which soup isn’t the answer to any food or illness issue? I’m not sure, but it seems soup is as much a sine qua non in Korean life as it is in other cultures.
But it’s the monologues – lyrical, even poetic – that, for my money, are the stars of this show. Each one made me want to stop and think about it a while. I’ve almost come to the conclusion that I’d rather see this as a short story, so I could do just that.
“Aubergine” isn’t fully cooked. It doesn’t quite know where to end, seeming to conclude several times. But the ideas are important, the cast excellent and the evening fascinating. And Sledge – the hospice nurse who has seen a lot of death – has the most important philosophical work to do: to prepare Ray for the inevitable.
“Aubergine” plays through February 17, 2019, at San Diego Repertory Theatre,
79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.
Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm
Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org