At first, it’s faintly surprising to realize that Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class (the last offering in this summer’s Second Stage Uptown series) doesn’t center on a family in a living room. It’s also not exactly a relationship drama, although long-separated college lovers are key to the plot. Instead, the play is about a cynical, amoral political battle. It’s the story of Chinese-American right-wing New York Assemblyman Julius Lee (Louis Ozawa Changchien), his savvy fixer Nathan, (David Rasche), and Julius’s ex-college girlfriend Holly (Katharine Powell), whose silence Julius hopes to buy. Each scene is a tense negotiation that unfolds with key information and agendas in half shadow. After the novelty of settling into a twisty genre tale has worn off, though, the question remains, how thrilling is it?
Lin is taking some risks; he doesn’t offer an Asian-American role model in Julius. Although the pol presents a squeaky-clean Christian exterior, he has skeletons: stalking Holly postbreakup and threatening her family and classmates. As Nathan bluntly explains: “Nothing the Dems would love more than for people to look at you and see ‘Virginia Tech’ or ‘that Chinese guy shooting hunters in the forest.’?” Julius must fight against a racist perception that Asian men are mentally unstable or prone to violence, but Holly insists that in Julius’s case, it’s true.
All three actors craft smart, wary performances in Evan Cabnet’s coolly cohesive staging. The piece moves swiftly, with the requisite ambiguities and reversals, but feels (like so many new works) developed into overly sleek tameness, maybe missing a final, jagged coda. Modern-day politics may be dirty beyond belief, but the impact of that knowledge is blunted by the dramaturgy’s determined cleanliness.—David Cote
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