Theater review by Regina Robbins
A kooky slice of California life, Carla Ching’s Nomad Motel focuses on two families who have lost their bearings, if they ever had any to begin with. Teenager Mason (Christopher Larkin) has lived in the U.S. for four years; his super-intense dad, James (Andrew Pang), sends him money from their native Hong Kong, expecting him to get straight A’s and acceptance to Harvard, but the kid is a musician at heart. Mason’s classmate Alix (Molly Griggs) is a SoCal native who lives in a cheap motel with her little brothers and her flaky mom, Fiona (Samantha Mathis), because they have lost their house. Alix yearns to flee to college in New York, while Mason can’t manage to draft an application essay. Teamed up for a class assignment, they are drawn closer together as their respective parents screw up on monumental levels.
Ching’s script, which veers from dark comedy to heartfelt drama to borderline farce, contains some truly lovely moments; a scene between Alix and her earnest ex, Oscar (Ian Duff), is especially poignant. But Nomad Motel has a few too many plot threads—panic attacks, a rescued baby bird, a Chinese crime syndicate—and after setting up an admirably diverse cast of characters, it settles for a conflict in which two young men of color vie for the affection of a cute white girl. Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar stages the action without blackouts or breaks, which lets lighting designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew and set designer Yu-Hsuan Chen display their ingenuity, but results in transitions that feel like movie montages in need of another edit. Despite a fascinating premise and solid performances, Nomad Motel hasn’t quite made it home.
Atlantic Stage 2 (Off Broadway). By Carla Ching. Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. With Molly Griggs, Christopher Larkin. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.