Photo by Don Kellogg

Friday, January 27, 2012

Outside People

Maybe Naked Angels has the idea first?  But in a Broadway season that already contains a very funny Chinese-culture play, I'm not sure why the Vineyard chose this time to mount Outside People exactly now.   Logistics aside, which may have just been mere coincidence, it is now inevitable that comparisons to Chinglish, on Broadway, will be made.  Unfortunately for the Vineyard, hands down, Chinglish is a better play - technically, stylistically, and comically.

While the two plays are clearly different stories, they both deal at a high level with the cultural differences between Westerners and Chinese.  In this case Zayd Dohrn's new work it's a biting commentary on the Westernization of China and the dirty underworld that exists as capitalism suddenly slams into the vastly unprepared empire.  It's about friendship and the many ways that can be interpreted, used, and misused by both parties to a friendship.  It's about love, labor, and economic freedom.

All those heady topics that failed to impress me aside, the playwright shrouded the friendship and plot in so much mystery, it was frustrating and confounding at times.  Where was he going?  Is he going where I think he is?  What does David Wang really do?  Is she?  or Isn't she?   Not all of this is bad - i like the approach, but the execution seemed to be lacking, unfocused, and misleading.  Maybe a Chinese director would have helped matters?  I'm not sure.

Matt Dellapina (Malcolm) and Nelson Lee turn in top-notch performances - clearly grasping and owning their respective characters, flaw and all with Mr. Dellapina deftly owning his nebbish insecurity and borderline neuroticism and Mr. Lee owning his power as a young, American educated, good looking, Chinese businessman.

T'was a serious topic, some great acting, and a pace to the work that propelled it forward, but in the end, it missed making some connections, lacked a compelling reason for the entire circumstance of Malcolm's being in China, and somehow left most of the audience wondering (and I don't think this was intended at all) whether Xiao Mei was or wasn't who she was accused of being.