Luna Stage in West Orange, whose black box theater seats 99, debuted, last week, Luna2, a renovated smaller space (capacity: 60) that it will use for its “American Voices” series, devoted to “original work by contemporary American solo theatre artists,” according to a press release. Its first offering in the series, “Soo Jin Pretty Nail (and more!),” runs through Oct. 7.
“Soo Jin Pretty Nail (and more!)” is basically a monologue by actress and writer Susan Hyon, though it does have some theatrical elements, including a surprise opening and occasional, presumably scripted, interactions with board operator Phillip Esposito. Audience members are invited, at one point, to participate in a raffle.
Hyon actually plays two characters, one who appears to be autobiographical — a Korean-American actress — and her comically shallow sister. She talks about her life and acts out various scenes from her past, including one in which she is molested by her father.
As intense as “Soo Jin Pretty Nail (and more!)” is at times, it’s also sometimes much lighter. Hyon tells stories about prejudice she (or, I guess I should say, her main character) has experienced, and about her entire family. She seems to get obsessed about certain things. One long, intricately detailed story, for instance, had to do with being ripped off when buying a bed in Manhattan, and the revenge she took.
Often, Hyon would pause in the middle of a sentence, as if she were trying to find the next word. I wasn’t sure whether she was really struggling or if this was done on purpose — i.e., she wanted to look like she wasn’t sure what the next word should be, to make it appear that she was telling the story for the first time. I suspect it was the latter.
I liked “Soo Jin Pretty Nail (and more!)” but didn’t love it. Hyon’s stories were engaging in their own right, and added up to a life messy enough to seem richly real. I couldn’t discern much of a larger dramatic purpose, though.
A press release describes “Soo Jin Pretty Nail (and more!)” as “a play, a stand-up routine, a confession, and a therapy session.” And that seems about right — a lot of different things rather than one sharply focused thing. A different form of theater than what we’re accustomed to. And if that’s what the “American Voices” series is going to be … I say fine, New Jersey could definitely benefit from it.
Luna Stage in West Orange will present “Soo Jin Pretty Nail (and more!)” through Oct. 7. Visit lunastage.org.
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