A Korean-American architect and her African-American husband move with their baby daughter into a fixer-upper Brooklyn brownstone—holes in the plaster, boxes everywhere, a makeshift architect’s office—when a black neighbor, who seems to have been the original kid-on-the-corner, drops by repeatedly offering one deal after another, and the husband’s ne’er-do-well adoptive brother blows in from an Asian getaway, wanting to move in and start a business with his bro’—and the new Korean nanny inadvertently starts pushing a new mother’s buttons. Then a brick comes crashing through the window.
Diana Son’s new play, Satellites, in a well-acted, well-directed production at the Aurora, brings up a lot of issues—what “race” has morphed into, the welter of contradictions a young professional couple (and new parents) find themselves in, the sometimes hidden anguish of the locals trying to swing with gentrification (and the perceptions and misperceptions of their new neighbors), the dilemmas of an immigrant woman who’s been sidelined by her own family—and, opposite number to the professional mother, the realizations of her middle-aging collaborator in an architectural competition that she doesn’t have all she expected in life by her 40th birthday.
There are particularly good performances by Michael Asberry as Reggie, the aging homeboy, the street corner entrepreneur, viewed with suspicion (even secretly monitored on video) by his new neighbor, and by Lisa Kang as the well-meaning Mrs. Chae, caught in the middle as she adopts a family that’s hired her to take care of a multiracial, multicultural baby.
Darren Bridgett as the loose, fly-by-night adoptive brother, demonstrates again why he’s in demand around the Bay as a comic character actor, all insouciant charm and bright reassurances as he swaggers through the fixer-upper after landing and getting mugged, rolling up his pants legs to show the plastic-wrapped Asian currency taped to his skin, swag from his Third World-hopping scams—and come-on capital for a flakey partnership. And Ayla Yarkut gracefully takes the part of Kit, a kind of stock type in film and on stage, not so much fleshing out her slender frame as giving her character, in every sense, vying with her own desires and anguish.
As husband Miles, Michael Gene Sullivan (well-known as a longtime Mime Troupe regular) also shows a magnanimous presence, communicating the recently laid-off, rebuffed (or so he feels) husband and father’s sense of being adrift more with body language and discreet glances than with dialogue.
Miles was raised by a white suburban family, and his racial cause is taken up more vigorously by his Korean-American wife, Nina, than by himself. Conversely, Nina supposes her nanny—and others—are judging her baby racially, even as she’s conflicted that her daughter be an American girl, yet learn Korean, all the while remembering going back to the neighborhood where she grew up, and getting shouted at, to go back where she came from.
Julie Oda’s a fine character actor, but outside of a few, rare quiet moments and their opposite, complete hysteria when Nina loses it in her pursuit to satisfy all her ambitions at once, it’s difficult for her to take Nina, as written, out of (to coin another contradiction) her cloying shrillness. It’s the crux of an interesting, committed play’s problems—its most complex character and centerpiece becomes understandable, but never quite sympathetic, only slightly sentimentalized instead—still too much a type.
With all the play’s aspirations to social drama, there’s a few too many merely conceptual constructions and too-quick TV-style resolutions (Son wrote for “The West Wing” and produces for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”). But there’re moments when a dramatic necessity tugs undertow, and fine passages, like Reggie ecstatically enumerating the constellations he could see during the great New York blackout—saying acerbically, when he gets to Hercules in his recitation of astral myth, that they could’ve used a hero like that in the social mayhem that followed.
The cast and Kent Nicholson’s steady directorial hand add much tone to a rather monochromatic sketch at times, one which lays claim to being a mural of a society of dislocated individuals, crossing signals as they try to come together as family, neighbors, coworkers, friends. That many of the situations and vignettes work, if sometimes in isolation (like their characters that play them out), and that the playwright seems as insouciantly ambitious as her fraught female lead, may mean Son’s next one will really tell the story.
Through March 2 at the Aurora Theatre.
$40-$42. 2081 Addison St. 843-4822.