AS WE BABBLE ON
As We Babble On is the third recent production I’ve seen from the East West Players, and it’s yet another success for them! (The other two are Allegiance and the brilliant Soft Power.) This new one is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy with a likable cast and lots of laughs along the way. I do have to admit that some of it is a tad confusing, but understanding all the action is not that important when you’re having a line-by-line good time.
The EWP is a wonderful organization that features works by, and of, Asian Americans, and, from what I understand, all of their productions showcase the plight of people of all colors. I think this play is trying to do that, as well, but the journey is what’s interesting here, not the message this time, (especially because I’m not even sure what that is!)
After the show, a few of us were trying to figure out what it all meant in the scheme of the world, because it got so heavy towards the end that we felt it was trying to tell us something. We figured out that, since the cast is all ethnic, (which is the admirable aforementioned trademark of East West Players productions,) it has something to do with prejudice. [Note: I share some of my experiences with, and feelings about, that subject at the end of this review.]
But forget all that—I was just grateful for an evening filled with a lot of laughter!
As We Babble On is about the love and work lives of a group of ethnically-diverse twenty-somethings in New York. The setting is now, so, of course there’s a ton of social media involved. (They call the main thing they do “babbling” as opposed to “tweeting” or “instagramming.” Watch—“Babble” will be the next big app because of this play!!!) [Note: Not to be confused with Babbel, which is a real-life language-learning app.]
Opening night was a blast from the get-go. First of all, the Henry David Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo is very interesting, with a perfect-for-mingling giant patio area in front. That evening began with an outdoor cocktail party, which is always a lovely way to start off an event. (And this is coming from non-drinker moi!)
After the assemblage settled in the theatre for the presentation, Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai gave a very entertaining welcoming speech. He made us all meet our seat-mates, which I usually hate doing, but it was actually fun this time!
Then the show began with modern, upbeat music, which introduced the five-person cast a bit. The multi-level set, by Tesshi Nakagawa, is just perfect! (Except they put the almost-naked hunk, Sachin Bhatt, on the top level for the scene without his clothes, and you just know that I would have rathered had him front and center for that bit! Especially because I was in the second row!)
There are some very clever visual touches along the way, and occasional hip music to keep the convivial vibe going. And I’m in love with the many adorable cartoony graphics!
The only real weakness at all was the absolutely awful wardrobe. Nobody dresses like the two females do in this show. It’s one bad outfit after another. Even real-life struggling bakers and writers, (which is what they are portraying,) do not dress this unattractively! Trying to figure-out why anyone would outfit these characters this way sapped a lot of my attention, so I missed-out on some of the dialogue.
But back to the positives. All five cast members are just right for their roles. It’s an excellent job of casting. My favorite was Bobby Foley as the rich guy. He reminded me so much of my smartest doctor, who’s sort-of upscale himself, so I loved that. One very simple line from Bobby, near the end of the play, (something like, “So I’m going to go,”) was delivered so perfectly that it elicited the loudest laugh of the whole night from me.
Skinny Will Choi, who is basically the glue that holds it all together, is spot-on. I believed that his character is exactly who he’s supposed to be. (And his casual gray attire is the only one that worked!)
I have to make this one point about pretty Jaime Schwarz, (even though I hate doing so,) but I hope that it will help her be even more attractive. (And also help any others of you who are guilty of this, too, actor or otherwise.) My friend and I found her hunched-over posture to be very distracting—I kept wanting to run up on stage to pull her shoulders back! Maybe she was just embarrassed to be wearing that dreadful wardrobe. Or perhaps it was an acting choice, to show that her character is insecure, but, unless you’re playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame, slouching never looks good on stage. Other than that, her acting is fine.
And even though comic actress Jiavani Linayao is often funny, and the majority of the audience seemed to really enjoy her performance, she’s way too over the top in just about every scene. When I read in the program that she does improv, though, that explained it. (I was one of the original Laugh Factory Players improv ensemble, and trust me, I could not take how big all our schtick was! Improv people really need to learn to take it down several notches.) While they’re working together, maybe Jiavani could learn from Bobby’s low-key deliveries, which really work. (Then again, over-the-top has benefitted some other actors, like Jim Carrey, so maybe she should stick with her style.)
And shamefully for me, I barely heard a word Sachin Bhatt said—the production just hypnotized me with that buff body that I mentioned earlier! So, shame on them for doing that to me! (Yeah, right—I loved every minute of it!)
The story itself is entertaining enough, but the writing by Nathan Ramos is often, how shall I put it, less than stellar. There are a lot of pieces that don’t make real sense. My friend thought it was amateurish, and I must say that I partly agree. But it took me a couple of days of reflection to do so because my overall feeling that night was one of mirth. So I say, don’t get deep into the writing, and just enjoy the many laughs.
But, seriously, the last scene really needs to be shortened, by half! After being basically a laugh-fest all along, the slow pace of the supposed dramatic climax made us want it to be over already. I think it was trying to make a point, but it was not coming through. That whole drawn-out scene is so wordy that a few of us were lost by it all.
But the bottom line on As We Babble On is a positive one. I say—go see it! Just don’t get too serious about it; accept the humor and enjoy.
What made opening night even better was the post-show reception. Because of the New York setting of the play, (even though there was nothing in the script to back up that declaration,) we got to feast on pizza and meatballs. Being from Brooklyn, I know my way around a pizza, and let me tell you—the Sicilian squares from Prime Pizza near the theatre were the best of the variety that I’ve ever had! The meatballs, garlic knots, and salad were equally delicious! (If you go there after the show yourselves, you’ll see of what I speak.)
Okay, as promised, here are some of my quick thoughts on, and experiences with, prejudice:
Prejudice is disgusting. Period. (Unless it’s towards the only two groups I’m a bit biased against—Hare Krishna and child “celebrities.”) This topic is always a bit strange for me because it wasn’t part of my life growing-up, at all, but got serious later on. The woman who brought me up (because both my parents were teachers,) was black, and since she was a big part of my family, I just assumed that she and I were the same. My best friend in kindergarten, (before she moved away,) was Japanese, and my best friend for the next few years after that, (until she, too, moved elsewhere,) was the only Catholic person in my class, (and probably school!,) because the rest of us were Jewish. And even when I moved out to LA as a teen-ager, my group of pals was all mixed. I just assumed my whole life that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. (And I still do!)
The only two times I faced prejudice against me were these: in most of my younger acting career, I had problems because my nose was “too big,” which I always heard identified me as Jewish. It was fine for the show biz execs to be of my same ethnic persuasion, but not for an actress to be. I was constantly beseeched to have a nose job. (Nowadays, the bigger the nose, the more jobs you seem to get! So, there’s progress there, at least.) And, in my early twenties, my boyfriend was black. Both our families were fine with it, and we were accepted in his native Rhode Island, (except for the Italian section of Providence.) We had maybe one or two issues in my Brooklyn, but it was nothing compared to what went on in LA. It was shocking! When he moved out here about a year after I did, many of my Jewish pals, and all of my rich Greek friends, left me out of everything all of a sudden! They didn’t want me to bring “the black boyfriend” around them. Needless to say, I dropped all of them, but it was quite the eye-opener.
Hey, maybe I can write a play about those racists! I’ll call it Beverly Hills Bigots.
But while I work on that, make sure you see As We Babble On right now. I just hope that my imagined play is as humorous as this one!
As We Babble On running through June 24, 2018
David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center of the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso Street 213-625-70 www.east west players.com