Sides: The Fear Is Real…
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
April 7, 2005
Rarely do I go see a show alone and leave wishing I’d brought a gaggle of friends with me (most of my friends are, yes, geese, and the one who was supposed to take the other ticket cancelled at the last minute). But such was the case with Ma-Yi Theater Company’s current entertainment, Sides: The Fear is Real.
The reason: it’s really really funny. Not necessarily “clever” or “witty” (though both those elements are present)—Sides is expert buffoonery provoking laughter not from the head, but from the gut.
Not quite a play, but more substantive and less jokey than sketch comedy, this episodic piece is a collaborative creation of the six performers on-stage (collectively crediting themselves as Mr. Miyagi’s Theatre Company), based (presumably) on their actual audience experiences. “Sides” is defined in the program as “an incomplete script that shows lines and cues of a single performer,” and throughout the course of this brief evening, we are treated to a cavalcade of personalities that run the gamut from the acutely sensitive to the brutally honest, from the paralyzingly principled to the blithely superficial, etc., all of whom will seem strangely familiar (or familiarly strange) to anyone involved in “show business.” All six actors are Asian American and their treatment in a Caucasian-dominated field is definitely some, but not nearly all, of the focus of their devastating satire.
A few anticipated FAQs:
- “Do I have to be an actor to enjoy this?” No: these folks are clowns and their physically- and vocally-eccentric characters transcend the waiting rooms and casting director’s offices that they inhabit.
- “Do I have to be Asian American to enjoy this?” No: you’ll miss about as much as you would if you were a Texan going to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
- “I am Asian American and my old college buddy’s new girlfriend is an actress. Is this really just an indulgent opportunity for these actors to blow off steam about their dead-end careers?” No: each of these terrific actors has a number of impressive credits to his/her name, and together they have created a show in which they give themselves the opportunity to shine as exceptional comic talents.
Director Anne Kaufman has orchestrated the evening well—the timing, the volume, the fluidity. Set designer David Korins and lighting designer John-Paul Szczepanski have created a number of convincing locations in a rather small theatre. And the cast commands the stage: Sekiya Billman, Cindy Cheung, and Rodney To are perhaps the more outrageous of the bunch (their standout roles include an English-as-a-17th-language Japanese actress, a personal-boundary-challenged casting director who also enjoys acting, and a Filipino stage-auteur with a paranoid eye for detail); Paul H. Juhn, Peter Kim, and Hoon Lee have more understated but equally impressive things to do (for example, Juhn as a clumsy, sweat-soaked, but hopeful auditionee; Kim as a casting director who redefines “smug”; and Lee as an Actor who is unmistakably and aggressively Classically-Trained).
I mean this is the most appreciative and enthusiastic way when I say that this is what Saturday Night Live should be. This is therefore yet another excuse not to sit home on a Saturday night. Or whatever other nights Sides is playing. Go see it.