The prodigal returns

Welcome Home, Kelly!

By Arista
Directed by Victor Maog
The Chad Foundation for Athletes and Artists
Sande Shurin Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Welcome Home, Kelly! is about conflict between generations in a Chinese-American family. The daughter, Kelly Liu (Arista), has returned home to NYC after 20 years as a successful lawyer in LA. Her kid brother, Danny (Evan Lai), has had some trouble with the law. An older brother, Sonny (Kenji) has been helping run the family restaurant with the siblings' father (Lu Yu), who is suffering from heart disease. Mr. Liu is also having trouble with gangs, trouble that leads to his death by heart attack during a holdup. Kelly goes back to LA, with an open invitation to Danny to follow her there if he wants to escape the narrow world of Chinatown.

This unoriginal story -- veering between the Scylla and Charybdis of family drama and Law and Order episode -- was a setting for some refreshing characterizations, both as written and performed. Lu Yu brought poise and credibility to the role of the patriarch. Evan Lai brought energy and a youthful mixture of brashness and naivete to Danny. Louis Changchien was genuinely scary as gangbanger Chungo, and his sidekick Nick Bosco contributed elements of fear and contrition to his role. The script saddles the Sonny role with a clunky soliloquy, and much of the dialog has overtones of a household debate, a tendency not helped by Arista's sometimes wooden performance. Still, this was an authentically perceived look into a fascinating milieu.

For the most part, director Maog kept the story moving and extracted some good work from his actors, even when the schematic drama threatened to swamp the rest of the play.

The set (Michelle Malavet) was a restaurant table, some chairs, rows of cardboard boxes, and some decorations. The otherwise generic costumes included appropriately bright colors for the hoodlums. (Did the wonderful Chinese wedding robes briefly shown at the end count as costumes or props?) The lighting (Annmarie Duggan) was utilitarian but appropriately harsh and well-defined. The sound design (Elizabeth Rhodes) was an intricate background of gongs and bells, sounding a bit like Philip Glass.

This play is a milieu in search of a story.

(Also featuring Murielle Borst, Tony Cheng, and Gavin Hoffman.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton