‘Aubergine’ at South Coast Rep Explores Food and Family

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Jinn S. Kim and Sab Shimono in South Coast Repertory’s 2019 production of “Aubergine” by Julia Cho. )Photo by Jordan Kubat/SCR)

COSTA MESA — South Coast Repertory’s latest production, “Aubergine” by Julia Cho, directed by Lisa Peterson, is running through Nov. 16 on the Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Dr. in Costa Mesa (Bristol Street/Avenue of the Arts exit off the 405 Freeway).

In “Aubergine,” sometimes a meal is more than just food. A man shares a bowl of berries and a young woman falls in love. A mother meticulously prepares her son’s favorite dish to keep him from leaving home. And a Korean American son cooks soup for his ailing father to say what words cannot. The perfect bite transcends time and cultural differences in this poetic tale of love, loss and healing.

“I want [audience members]to walk away hungry,” Cho told DC Metro Theatre Arts about how she hoped people would respond to the play. “Hungry to see a loved one, hungry to have some dish they loved as a kid, hungry to talk about a memory.”

Cho has had numerous works produced and commissioned by South Coast Repertory; among her plays are “The Language Archive” and “Office Hour.” Her other plays include “The Piano Teacher,” “Durango,” “The Winchester House,” “BFE,” “The Architecture of Loss” and “99 Histories.”

She has been a resident playwright at New Dramatists since 2004. Her work has been produced at the Vineyard Theatre, The Public, Long Wharf Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, New York Theatre Workshop, East West Players, Boston Court Pasadena and Silk Road Theatre Project, among others.

Honors include the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Barrie Stavis Award, Claire Tow Award for Emerging Artists, and L. Arnold Weissberger Award. She is an alumna of the Juilliard School and New York University’s Graduate Dramatic Writing Program

The cast includes Bruce Baek as Uncle, Joy DeMichelle as Diane, Jinn S. Kim as Ray, Jully Lee as Cornelia, Irungu Mutu as Lucien Mukwege, Luzma Ortiz as the Hospital Worker, and Sab Shimono as Ray’s father.

“I love this play because it is mesmerizing and different,” said Shimono. “There’s not much dialogue for me, but I love Julia Cho’s writing. I’ve done so many plays, but when something like this comes along, I’m drawn to it because it has such depth and simplicity.”

Shimono’s other SCR credits include “tokyo fish story” and “The Ballad of Yachiyo.” His other stage and screen credits include “Mame,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen” and “Ride the Wind” (all on Broadway, in the world premieres); “The Wash,” “After the War,” “The Wind,” “Longmire,” “The Blacklist,” “Mad Men,” “M*A*S*H,” “The X-Files,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Presumed Innocent,” “Come See the Paradise,” “The Shadow” and “Old Dogs.”

Kim said of his character, “He’s a talented chef, who has an almost magical sense for knowing what food or meal a person needs. However, he is struggling to believe that himself, since his father has never accepted him as a chef. And now, at the age of 38, having drifted away from his father, Ray receives a call that his father is fading fast. As the only child, he is thrust into taking care of his father’s last days and, in the process, come to terms with and ​accept his father and himself.”

This is Kim’s SCR debut. His other credits include “Queen Latina & the Power Posse vs. the Evils of Society”; “Race, Religion & Politics”; “Dreaming in Tongues”; “A Winter Party”; “The Fairy Tale Project”; “The Oldest Boy”; “Oz,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Jessica Jones,” “Bull” and “Gotham.”

“‘Aubergine’ resonates with me because there are so many parallels that I can draw from my own life and relationship with my father,” Kim said. “If you replace Ray being a chef with my ongoing journey as an actor, ‘Aubergine’ is easily my story, particularly as a Korean American.

“This is a beautiful play! It’s a uniquely Korean American experience yet, at the same time, it’s universal to every culture, which to me is the hallmark of a great play. You get tidbits of insight into the Korean American experience at the same time the story resonates with everyone, especially with the connection of food to your senses, your feelings and memories …

“A childhood memory tied to food was when I was very young — 4 or 5 years old — and we were still living in Korea. My father didn’t cook very often, but I remember him making a dish where he cut the top of an egg and cooked rice inside the shell over a wood stove. It was so good that the memory stayed with me and into my childhood memory. I asked my dad about it fairly recently and he has no recollection of it.

“I just love foodperiod! But, if I had to choose, I might have to say Japanese. And if I had to be really specific: good sushi.”

Jully Lee and Joy DeMichelle in South Coast Repertory’s 2019 production of “Aubergine” by Julia Cho. (Photo by Jordan Kubat/SCR)

The design and creative team includes Myung Hee Cho, scenic and costume design; Peter Maradudin, lighting design; John Gromada, sound design; Yee Eun Namn, projections; and Joanne DeNaut, CSA, casting. Ben Shipley is the production stage manager and Maggie Kayes is stage manager.

“Aubergine” has generous support from honorary producers Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, and Samuel and Tammy Tang.

Tickets start at $24. Discounts are available for full-time students, patrons 25 years of age and under, full-time educators, seniors and groups of 10 or more. Tickets may be purchased online at www.scr.org, by phone at (714) 708-5555 or by visiting the box office.

Remaining evening performances: Sundays at 7 p.m.: Nov. 3 and 10; Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.: Nov. 5-7 and Nov. 12-14; Fridays, Saturdays, at 8 p.m.: Nov. 1-2; Nov. 8-9; and Nov. 15-16.

Matinees: Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.: Nov. 2-3; Nov. 9-10; and Nov. 16.

ASL-interpreted: Saturday, Nov. 9, at 2:30 p.m.

Post-show discussion with cast members: Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Inside the Season: Saturday, Nov. 2, from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Led by members of SCR’s literary staff, this lively two-hour session includes in-depth interviews with cast members and artists from the production staff, revealing secrets and offering insights into SCR’s production of “Aubergine.” Segerstrom Stage. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased in advance or at the door.

Artistic Director Conversation: Thursday, Nov. 7. In this post-show opportunity, Artistic Director David Ivers joins the audience for a lively, all-topics-welcome conversation.

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