Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Two Kids is a bruising, mightily felt, sharply scripted and beautifully acted story of two people who, though their lives have been intertwined for almost 30 years, have yet to figure out what they mean to one another. As for terrorism, what these two kids blow up, repeatedly, are their chances of being happy. Two Kids, being given a short run by Mu Performing Arts, is the best, most complete work yet to appear in this new theater season.
The play has just two characters, Diana and Max. They meet as nine year olds in New York City when Diana's father and Max's mother send the kids out to play while they embark on an affair. The adulterers are still married to their children's other parent, making Diana and Max fellow conspirators, or at least secret-keepers. This is part of what bonds the kids, in spite of their different temperaments. Max is a nerd, fascinated by chemical formulas that cause explosions (giving literal meaning to the play's title in one scene). He hold things within, while Diana expresses herself filter-free, a tough cookie with street smarts and a creative bent that finds outlet in the arts.
Two Kids, clocking in at just under 100 minutes, is made up of fourteen scenes presented out of chronological order. We first meet Diana and Max as 38 year olds, then at their first meeting as 9 year olds, then a leap to age 24, back to age 15, and so on. Because at the start we see them close to the end of their story (as far as it has been spun), we know where they are heading; but we do not know how they will get there. The scenes are short but pack a punch, as they depict major junctures in Max and Diana's shared historyseveral weddings, a divorce, a funeral, overseas separation, addiction, and betrayal. At one point they come together as lovers, then separate, but always remain central to one another's lives.
The stage in the Rarig Center's Kilburn Theatre is flanked by the audience along both lengths, and is littered with piles of completely blank large cardboard boxes, giving the impression upon arriving that we are traipsing through a storage locker containing the totality of someone's life. These boxes form the entire set (designed by Sarah Brandner) and serve as tables, chairs, a bar, and whatever other furnishings are needed. Within them are the costumes which Sun Mee Chomet (as Diana) and Sherwin Resurreccion (as Max) unpack after each scene to transform themselves into a different age. The effect works remarkably well, as we watch these two searching souls literally dig through their life's trappings, whether looking back or jumping forward. The costumes, designed by Aaron Chvatal, are pitch perfect. Even as they are put on and removed quickly, they create a complete image of who each character is at this point in time. Along with Akiem Scott's sound design, Sarah Brander's lighting design, and Merritt Rodriguez' properties design, the entire physical production is high caliber.
Mu's Artistic Director Randy Reyes has directed this play with precision timing and fast pacing, packing an enormous amount of content and emotion into each short scene, and moving briskly to the next. The frequent breaks for the actors to change costumes might have become distractions. Instead, they are woven into the fabric of the narrative, as we are witness to the sense of urgency with which Max and Diana move to another time in their life.
Sun Mee Chomet is stunning as Diana. As a youth she is bold, provocative, somewhat of a brat. As she matures she sheds those childhood defenses, seeking meaning in her art and in relationships. Even as we see her ricochet back and forth in time, she is seamlessly a whole person. Sherwin Resurreccion is her equal as Max. He appears mild-mannered in childhood, though his delight in blowing things up belies some inner demons which take hold of him as he moves into adulthood. He too forms a whole, complete character out of the snatches of key events revealed to us. Chomet and Resurreccion have a rare kind of chemistry on stagenot the combustion of sex or passion, but of true friendship that is a refuge of honesty in a world that has often been false to them.
The question of ethnicity comes up on just a few occasions. Diana is Chinese, Max is Korean, and here and there some reference is made to either their commonality as Asians or the differences between their two nationalities. But this is a very subtle aspect of Two Kids, and while Ching has stated that she was inspired to write a romantic comedy for Asians to fill that void in the canon of stage work, it is hard to discern how much difference there would be if, say, Max had been Italian and Diana had been Irish, or Max had been Jewish and Diana had been Mexican. The dynamics between them feel like a universal experience. That is a good thing, unless one is dead set on presenting the ways in which these specific ethnicities mark the characters in unique ways.
At times the jumping back and forth between ages is hard to follow, so that some effort is required to figure out if we have just moved forward or backward. The age in which each scene take place is projected on a wall at the side of the stage, but even with a dead-center seat (as the usher suggested), those were hard to see, sometimes obscured by the piled up boxes. Still, the effort made to sort the events into a narrative sequence add to the feeling of an electric current running through the play, with relays and switches that might be connected in differing orders and still have the same result.
The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up is a moving dramatic work. As it ends, with Max and Diana both 38 years old, we know that they likely have many years in which their shape-shifting relationship will continue. It likely will continue to cause them both joy and grief, and they will no doubt continue to blow up some of what they create together. What is clear, though, is that the continuing, no matter what guise it takes, has inherent value and worth, and can withstand the explosions.
The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up, a Mu Performing Arts production, continues through September 18, 2016, at the Kilburn Theatre at Rarig Center on the University of Minnesota campus, 330 21st Avenue S., Minneapolis. Tickets: $20.00, $10.00 for students with valid ID, $2.00 discount with Minnesota Fringe wristband. For tickets call 651-789-1012 or go to muperformingarts.org.
Writer: Carla Ching; Director: Randy Reyes; Set and Lighting Design: Sarah Brandner; Costume Design: Aaron Chvatal; Sound Design: Akiem Scott; Prop Design: Merritt Rodriguez; Technical Director: Jason Allyn-Schwerin; Stage Managers: Katherine Kenfield and Amy Abrigo; Assistant Stage Manager: Joseph Vang
Cast: Sun Mee Chomet (Diana), Sherwin Resurreccion (Max)