Review: `Satellites’

Opened Jan. 31, 2008 at the Aurora Theatre Company

Crowded orbit mars Son’s Satellites
Two stars (Needs space and time)

The really interesting thing about plays, movies or TV shows that attempt to depict the real-world diversity of this country is that, when you get right down to it, our shared humanity prevails. And it’s always messy.

Diana Son’s Satellites at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company is an ambitious jumble of a play. It’s a one-act that crams so many issues into about 100 minutes of stage time that the result is like two sitcoms and a serial drama mashed into one intermittently engaging evening.

Curiously, Son’s play, along with Danny Hoch’s Taking Over at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is the second play on Addison Street to be dealing with, in part, the gentrification of Brooklyn. Hoch’s play is much more convincing, while Son’s is aiming for something more personal and less overtly political.

Her protagonists are Miles (Michael Gene Sullivan, above), an African-American man, and his wife, Nina (Julie Oda, above), a Korean-American woman. They have a 6-week-old daughter and a new run-down four-story brownstone in Brooklyn.

Nina’s architectural office — and partner, Kit (Ayla Yarkut) — are in the basement, and a mysterious (and wholly unnecessary to the play) tenant (Samuel Raskin) lives on the fourth floor.

With walls crumbling and the living room strewn with moving boxes, the transition to Brooklyn is rough. Miles’ brother, Eric (Darren Bridgett, above, pants down), comes home from a long international trip and gets mugged on his way from the airport. Then someone lobs a rock through the front window. And a burly black neighbor, Reggie (Michael J. Asberry), a native of the block, ambles into the house and makes his presence known.

Everything in the play is complicated. There’s not really a plot, but there’s plenty of complication. Miles, a preemie born to a heroin addict, was adopted into a white family, so the brothers are black and white.

Nina has guilt about not being Korean enough, so she hires a Korean nanny, Mrs. Chae (Lisa Kang), to speak Korean to her infant. And Nina’s commitment to her architecture projects is wavering because she’s devoting so much time to her family and the establishment of their new home.

Throw in a budding romance between Kit and Eric, the threat of theft from Reggie (who’s a whole lot smarter and more sensitive than the average sitcom would allow), the lurking (and ridiculous) tenant, and you’ve got a mess.

That seems to be part of Son’s point – life is a mess, and everything we bring to the table, be it race, culture, age, insecurity, ego – only adds to the complication. The formula for Son’s play is: set-up, chaos, yelling, tears, moment of grace.

The moment of grace that comes out of nowhere at the end (and awkwardly gives the play’s title its meaning) doesn’t feel earned, nor is it believable. But the end is certainly welcome.

Director Kent Nicholson stages Son’s quick-cut scenes efficiently, and Melpomene Katakalos’ realistic set allows the action to switch effortlessly from floor to floor of the brownstone.

There are some terrific moments amid the chaos. Bridgett oozes charm as Eric, and his flirtation with Yarkut’s Kit gives the play some much needed spark. Kang (above) as the nanny ends up spoon feeding soup to an over-burdened Nina (who has mother issues) in the play’s most provocative scene.

But the overall impression of the play, which tries to do too much in too little time, is a shrill slice of life that feels more scripted than real and more TV than theater.

Satellites continues through March 2 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $40-$42. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

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