NYC Theater Review: “Fruiting Bodies” by Sam Chanse

By Timmy Pham

Ma-Yi Theater Company presents Fruiting Bodies, a new play by Sam Chanse at Theatre Row in New York City until May 19.

When an elderly sansei father heads off on a mushroom foraging trip alone, his two hapa daughters are forced to trek into the woods of Bolinas, CA, to find him. Along the way, a Puck-ish boy brings up memories of a missing favorite son while the family fractures along father/child, sister/sister, and husband/wife lines are brought into relief against the forest fog and earthy shrooms.

In Fruiting Bodies, playwright Sam Chanse, director Shelley Butler, and a team of sharp actors are able to bring across a subtle portrayal of Asian American life; one that is grounded in place, history, and a surprising amount of science. At times the background on morel (and other) mushrooms feels like a step into National Geographic, but the underlying themes crept back into my mind in the days after seeing the performance. Chanse is able to weave in new and refreshing nuances of larger overplayed structures throughout: racism as a sansei father questions his ex wife’s new choice of a nisei husband, the daughters revisit their neglect when confronted with their father’s sexist favoritism, an absent son reveals the ways discrimination becomes a structural obstacle both in the political and filial relationship, the Tesla-driving techno-optimist is confronted when her flashy solutions can’t mend fissures, and the angry arty “fuck up” daughter is disenfranchised by the larger systemic forces and doesn’t seem to take care of anyone, including herself.

Fruiting Bodies is a carefully crafted work built on a network of unfair family dynamics, the ever-changing Bay Area, a glimpse into Japanese American experience, and a deep sense of longing and loss. Like mushrooms, the carefully crafted touch points are ubiquitous but only really come into focus when you stop looking.

Tickets are from $32.25 to $42.25 and can be purchased by calling the Telecharge phone number 212-239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.com.

More About Ma-Yi Theatre Company

Founded in 1989 and now celebrating its 29th season, Ma-Yi is a Drama Desk, Obie Award and Lucille Lortel Award-winning, Off-Broadway not-for-profit organization whose primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. The Ma-Yi Theater Company website for additional information, www.ma-yitheatre.org. Ma-Yi Theater Company productions have earned 10 Obie Awards, numerous Henry Hewes Award nominations, a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play and the Special Drama Desk Award for “more than two decades of excellence and for nurturing Asian-American voices in stylistically varied and engaging theater.” Ma-Yi Theater is under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña.

***

Timmy Pham was once in a community theater production of King and I where his family were the only Asians. Fake tan and dyed black hair featured prominently. He is grateful for progress in Asian American theatre.

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