In "Four Destinies," Korean-American playwright Katie Hae Leo's smart, cutting social satire now up in a premiere in Minneapolis, a meddlesome character named Katie Leo (played by Katie Bradley) declares that she wants to speak for all adoptees. And she does, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
The play, cleanly staged by Suzy Messerole for Mu Performing Arts at Mixed Blood Theatre, shows the alienation that adoptees face in the home of the well-meaning but clueless Joneses (Nicholas Freeman and Maria Kelly).
The plot is simple enough. The same white-bread parents have adopted children who are very different from them and whose needs they don't seem to know how to meet. There's Destiny from Korea (Sara Ochs), black Destiny (LaDawn James), Central American Destiny (Nora Montanez) and Destiny from Gay America (Neil Schneider).
The play is structured around an adoption-day party that the Joneses have with their neighbors, the Harrisons (Shannon Custer and Don Eitel). Each Destiny rotates in and out of the Joneses' lives in the same scene, each getting her or his head rubbed like a shaggy dog while listening to the same adoption story for the umpteenth time.
Messerole elicits some evocative acting from her cast, all of whom sketch their characters sharply. Ochs invests her Destiny with both schoolgirlish charm and bristling diffidence. James' Destiny, who texts her real thoughts during the party, is a typical sardonic adolescent. Montanez's Destiny is confident, kind and surprisingly rooted in her culture, while Schneider imbues Destiny No. 4 with broad optimism.
The play, nicely lit by Michael Wangen on a tiered set by Mina Kinukawa, teems with ideas that swirl like birthday balloons. Some are fresh and surprising, some are rooted in stuff we've heard before, including that the playwright loses control of her characters.
The major flaw of the play, which has an unnecessary coda by the playwright character, is structural: The parents are unchanging in the first act, no matter the situation or the adoptee. Same party, same neighbors, same story. That may be true, but it grows a little tiresome.
"Four Destinies" takes off in the second act, when each Destiny, after long years of wondering about his or her personal history, finds out some important information. These scenes show that such knowledge can be tricky, leading to unexpected reflection in the heart and soul.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390