STAGE REVIEW: Getting Beneath the ‘Skin’

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Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda) and Avalyn (Elizabeth Liang, right) identify the person who can solve the answers to his past, in “Mysterious Skin.” (Michael Lamont/East West Players)

By AYAME KOUSAKA
RAFU STAFF WRITER

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“Mysterious Skin,” the latest production from East West Players, continues its run through Oct. 10, with a pay-what-you-can performance added this Thursday.

The story, a collision between known and unknown, seen and imagined, follows Brian Lackey, a young man searching for answers behind an alien abduction he felt he experienced as a child.

Set in 1991 in both Kansas and New York City, the story follows Brian in his hunt to find other abductees like himself. He soon befriends a woman named Avalyn Friesen who has had a similar experience and they become close friends. His journey also leads him to Neil McCormick, a former Little League teammate-turned male prostitute. It isn’t long after that the shocking truth soon emerges.

Based on the novel by Scott Helm and directed by Tim Dang, Mysterious Skin is a powerful and gritty drama about the horrific experiences of two boys and how their lives were altered by a traumatic event in their childhood. The performances by the entire cast consistently amazed; from the raw, engaging, quick-witted character of Neil (played by David Huynh), to the awkward, timid innocence of Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda) to the comic relief of Avalyn (played by Elizabeth Liang).

The artfully constructed set evoked the entire theme of the play. Chain-link fencing lined the sides and back of the stage, and blue lighting created eerie night scenes equipped with an enormous full moon in the center of the stage. The additional use of fog effects, thunder sounds, flashing lights and projected images on a screen kept the audience’s attention.

The use of two scenes happening simultaneously, similar to a split screen effect in a film, was also brilliantly executed. My eyes didn’t know what to follow, but it heightened the experience; I could almost feel the chaotic distress the actors were going through.

There is a brief scene of full nudity during this sequence after which the stage ignited into bursts of blinding bright lights and the theater suddenly became pitch black. All one could hear was moaning and gurgled voices. The theater lights slowly came on and the stage began to glow dimly. An uneasy silence penetrated the air as the play went into intermission.

During one particular scene it appeared that Liang’s character cut herself and began bleeding all over Scott Takeda. I assumed that was part of the play as she kept going through the scene without hesitation. In the following scene a bandage was wrapped around her hand, so I am guessing it was an accident. If indeed it was, I thought it was an incredible moment and only added to the overall intensity of the play.

“Mysterious Skin,” now playing through Oct. 10 at the David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Little Tokyo. Tickets $25-35, rush tickets $15-$25. Thursday, Oct. 7 only, pay-what-you-can tickets go on sale one hour prior to performance time, $5 suggested. For information, visit www.eastwestplayers.org or call (213) 625-7000. Due to its subject matter, graphic language and nudity, Mysterious Skin is intended for mature audiences.”

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