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DURANGO by Julia Cho (Theatre Smash/fu-GEN Canadian Theatre Company, in association with Buddies in Bad Times). At Buddies (12 Alexander)..
DURANGO by Julia Cho (Theatre Smash/fu-GEN Canadian Theatre Company, in association with Buddies in Bad Times). At Buddies (12 Alexander). Runs to May 31. $20-$37, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Julia Chos road trip dramedy Durango is such a familiar yet powerful story that it could be adapted from an American indie screenplay from the mid-2000s.
Upright Asian-American patriarch Boo-Seng Lee (Hiro Kanagawa) has just been fired from his office job after more than 20 years of loyal service. Keeping that a secret, he convinces his two sons, the aspiring musician Isaac (David Yee), whos unenthusiastically applying to medical schools, and Jimmy (Philip Nozuka), an overachieving high school swimming champ, to take a couple of days off to visit Durango.
The men set off on a trip that ends up, you guessed it, becoming a voyage of discovery, where they eat junk food, bicker, sleep and eventually reveal their pent-up secrets.
What brings the show to life are the details in the script and director Ashlie Corcorans production. Theres a lot of meaning in the way Boo-Seng judgmentally adjusts a car seat, for instance, or the way the two brothers who arent close affectionately spar while sharing a bed.
Jimmy, it turns out, doesnt love swimming, although hes good at it hed rather draw a superhero named the Red Angel, whos rendered in a series of set pieces by Adrian Shepherd at the sides of the stage.
Im not sure that character is needed. But there are some lovely moments involving others, including a custodian and a stranger at a motel pool, both played with understated charm by Ardon Bess. And its a brilliant stroke to have each of the Lee men flash back to his memory of the mother/wife. This missing figure is, we learn, crucial to all their stories.
The actors are uniformly good, and Corcoran gives them lots of room to breathe and pace themselves. The stakes are so high during the climax that the opening-night crowd was completely silent as it played out.
The only problems I have are with the venue and the set. A show this intimate deserves a smaller space than Buddies mainstage. And Jung-Hye Kims set, dominated by a rooftop, complete with a skylight that never pays off theatrically, is simply cumbersome, especially during a scene in a motel when the actors have to move their beds away.
But thats a small problem in an otherwise moving script by a writer to watch.