Martinson Theater at The Public
Snapshot Review: Worthwhile
Julia Ippstein, Reviewer
“Office Hour” by Julia Cho had me on the edge of my seat pretty quickly. I was full of anticipation about what this story might explore and although the play didn\\\\\’t give me what I expected or hoped for, it was a powerful and unique exploration of good and evil, gun culture and the challenges and necessities of preventative action. The play is about a college student, Dennis (Ki Hong Lee), who writes horrifying and grotesque stories in his creative writing classes, isolates himself and barely talks while his teachers struggle with the appropriate method of dealing with him. I was hoping for a heartwarming and inspiring exploration of a teacher helping a student heal that might make me shed a tear or two — yes, I\\\\\’m a bit of a sap. But to be honest, that\\\\\’s an overdone trope and is very hard to do without feeling cheesy. This play had a stronger edge and fresh take.
The script highlighted something I\\\\\’ve been struggling with, and it was satisfying to see it addressed onstage. There is a fascinating binary within humans of good and bad that often disappoints us. We always expect and crave for pure, good heroes, and lately, I\\\\\’ve been wondering how much of an anomaly that is. I have recently met some people who have given a lot of good to the world, only to find out they have done some terrible things, too. I don\\\\\’t know how to relate to that. Do I shun them and ignore the good they offer? Do I accept them and ignore the abuse they\\\\\’ve given? Is there forgiveness and when? How do you find the balance in that? Should there be balance? Where do I place my rage? Cho both names this good/evil binary in the play and explores toxic masculinity in the male characters. An example is when the nice and reasonable white male teacher, in a flash of possibility, reveals his bully within.
Let me clarify what I mean when I say “a flash of possibility” — one of my favorite parts of the production was how we would see a scene play out and then with a jolt of sound and light, flash back and realize it was purely the hopes or fears of the characters, or perhaps, a flash of possibility. It created a dream-like quality to the play and, looking back, I have doubts as to which moments were real and which moments were imagined. I like that. I find myself pondering Walt Whitman\\\\\’s poetry: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
“Office Hour” is rich in concept. The question of intellectual freedom arose when discussing how appropriate it is for a person to write about violence and rape in a writing class in which people share their work and sometimes other students act out the scenes their classmates have written. In a college setting and a country that values freedom of speech as much as the U.S., is it really acceptable to ask a student to change their topic of writing, or prevent the student from sharing their work with the class? There is a similar question I ask myself when I think about how our commitment to freedom of speech has allowed some press to lie under the guise of truth, misinforming half the country into selecting leaders who do not have their best interest at heart. Is freedom of speech worth it when it allows lies to dangerously twist people\\\\\’s understanding of the world? Don\\\\\’t we need some rules? More questions — One of Cho\\\\\’s lines that really stood out to me was: “The broken people have been given ideas.” This addresses a concern that I have about where this country is headed.
Cho\\\\\’s writing is creative, vibrant and edgy. It is not an easy play to write, set mostly in one room at one point in time. Directed by Neal Keller, Office Hour is full of tension and intrigue while sprinkled with some much needed humor. There were moments I found myself distracted, but not many. Cho and Keller so effectively established Dennis that when he entered with a hooded jacket, hat and sunglasses, hunched over, hands in pockets, I felt my body tense up and my breath hold. When he took his hands out of his pockets for the first time I found myself staring at them and thinking, his hands are terrifying. Hong Lee plays Dennis with a claustrophobic anxiety and anger that was suffocating and powerful.
Sue Jean Kim plays Gina, the teacher that tries to help him. Jean Kim was an excellent vessel for the story, giving herself over to what needed to be said. At times Hong Lee and Jean Kim seemed to be trying too hard and I wished they trusted themselves and the work more, but the majority of their performance was just what the play needed. The design strengthened the arc of the play. I really enjoyed its journey which started simply and cold, soon to reveal itself into a fully developed office with a ticking clock, then to nothingness and finally an almost romantic bare setting lending us towards a feeling of hope. This final setting ensconced a line of dialogue reminding us that we all need to do something — not just ask questions.
I really enjoyed Office Hour and was grateful for the important social issues that it explored. As a final note, it was a pleasure to see a diverse team onstage and behind the scenes and I hope that soon this is not something I feel the urge to note.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Please note: This performance contains loud recorded gun shots, live blanks, violence, and strobe effects.
Office Hour is playing at The Public Theater, New York City, 405 Lafayette Street, through December 3, 2017. For more information, visit the Public Theater\\\\\’s website.
© Copyright 2017 by Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.