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NYTW’s Meta-Fascinating Endlings

NYTW’s Meta-Fascinating Endlings

Emily Kuroda, Jo Yang & Wai Ching Ho. Photo by Chad Batka.

The play that we dive into at the always inventive New York Theatre Workshop, finds the ways and means to scrounge the bottom of the ocean blue to capture a thrillingly meta-magnificent way to discuss race, culture appropriation, and intent. It’s starts out with a naturally appealing spotlight introduction, as if we are tuning into a National Geographic television special. “I Love Television!” is shouted out with a feisty glee by one of the three elderly Endlings, and we take in her pleasure, even as the other has a few choice words in opposition to her joyful statement. Set forth for our inspection by playwright Celine Song (Tom & Eliza), the three are, as the definition of the titular noun states on Jason Sherwood’s (NYTW’s Sojourners, Her Portmanteau) dynamic set: “the last known individuals” of their kind. And we are honored to meet them.

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Miles G. Jackson & Jiehae Park. Photo by Chad Batka.

They are three wise and wonderful firecrackers diving into the waters in their own unique and detailed way. Standing upright before us in a pool of water and sunshine, courtesy of the striking lighting design by Bradley King (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), with co-sound design and original music by Elisheba Ittoop (NYTW’s An Ordinary Muslim) sharing credit with co-sound designer Ien DeNio. But there’s a twist we don’t see coming, as we sit back and watch this clever Korean tale, that is until the crack in the ocean’s floor literally walks in from behind us in the form of Ha Young, a Korean-Canadian Manhattanite in her late 20s who plays the probable real life equivalent of Song, engagingly portrayed by the fascinating Jiehae Park (Sleep).

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Wai Ching Ho, Jo Yang & Emily Kuroda. Photo by Chad Batka.

As directed with a playful precision by Sammi Cannold (NYCC’s Evita), the three elderly ‘haenyeos’, the Endlings of the island, are laid out before us by differing decades: Han Sol in her 90’s, played with wide eyed glory by Wai Ching Ho (“Daredevil”); Go Min in her 80’s by the compellingly caustic Emily Kuroda (“Gilmore Girls”); and Sook Ja in her 70’s, touchingly portrayed by Jo Yang (Comfort Women). They stare out proudly in their wetsuits and grins, outfitted wisely by costume designer Linda Cho (Broadway’s Grand Horizons). Are they symbols of cultural appropriation presented knowingly to get the theatrical commission? Or are they characters that truly inspire the writer and the artist? The dilemma splashes out, never really telling us what is happening beyond the conceptualization of conflict and discomfort. It’s a fascinating contraption presented for us to unpack, even as the White Husband (and fellow playwright), lovingly portrayed by the very game Miles G. Jackson (“The Last O.G.”), is identified and labeled before us for our intricate inspection. The play drowns a bit in the choppy waters of white speak and late coming audience members that fail to add too much to the proceedings, but in Song’s monologue self referential voice, along with the emotional trio working hard at their solitary lives and dynamic portrayals, Endlings finds a thoughtful dissections of complex ideas with meta elastic style.

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Keith Michael Pinault, Mark Mauriello, Matt DaSilva, Andy Talen. Photo by Chad Batka.

The white men play within a play on the white sofa, embodied by Matt DaSilva (Ragtime on Ellis Island)as White Stage Manager, Mark Mauriello (OSCAR at The Crown) as White Stage Manager/Turtle, Keith Pinault (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as White Stage Manager, Andy Talen (Sleep No More) as White Stage Manager, trying to make a point that the audience wants to gobble up inside knowing nods, flailing in the rough deep waters of cultural complexities that don’t find their complete footing on dry land. But in the three elderly women, we find the priceless pearl inside the crusty clam. Or is that really the question that she’s trying so hard to capture and answer in her wide net somewhere off the coast of some barren Korean island; a meta Endlings that makes us question all that we just devoured hungrily without tasting the bitterness of the playwright’s dilemma.

Endlings at New York Theatre Workshop. by Celine Song. directed by Sammi Cannold. Photo by Ross.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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