The stakes are not terribly high, and there’s a lot of weirdness and eccentricity in “Two Mile Hollow,” the satire by Leah Nanako Winkler that had its local premiere at Mixed Blood Theatre over the weekend. But beneath the laughs, there’s a lot of heart in this comedy about race, manners and the theater.
Skewering such plays as Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” and Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” director Randy Reyes and his cast walk an emotional and aesthetic tightrope in this acidic sendup of upper-class white families at their vacation retreats.
The Donnellys have gathered for a weekend at the recently sold East Hampton beach house that long has been a family haven. Patriarch and former movie star Derek Donnelly has died but his spirit hangs over everything, including judgmental widow Blythe (Sun Mee Chomet), their spacey daughter Mary (Kathryn Fumie) and his two sons by another partner: Yale man Joshua (Sherwin Resurreccion), a manic-depressive who has not lived up to the promise of his education, and Christopher (Eric Sharp), a TV heartthrob with aspirations of movie stardom. And then there is Christopher’s assistant, Charlotte (Meghan Kreidler), an aspiring writer who’s producing a web series.
The twist in this Theater Mu production is that all the characters are played by Asian-American actors. And that is by design. “Hollow” was written as a counterweight to recent “yellow-face” casting of white actors in Asian roles, both in Hollywood and onstage. And it also gives Asian-American actors a chance to play roles for which they are rarely considered.
As they maneuver among the moving boxes and vacation gear on Joseph Stanley’s elegant set, the characters reveal their own peculiar dramas.
Mary has a crush on stepbrother Christopher, causing all kinds of eww-y weirdness. She pretends to be a bird to escape trauma, and has a little game with her mother in which they “caw” for long stretches in different keys, as if speaking a language only they know. Some family members have unusual pronunciations they impose on the others. Joshua corrects Charlotte about the pronunciation of his favorite chef’s name, “Jhun Gyugeuh” (Jean Georges to you).
Kreidler’s Charlotte — smart, ambitious and willing to do what’s necessary to get ahead — gives the show its only possibility at normalcy and redemption. Pursued by Joshua, she has a surprising moment near the end of the first act where she bursts into song to explain her background: “I grew up in an environment / Where many teens became pregnant / And being a junkie was normal / And the Olive Garden was formal”).
The acting company is clearly having fun, and seems to be discovering things about their characters at the same time we do. Sharp’s TV star is forever mugging for a camera only he can see, but he’s also trying to find some semblance of authenticity in a life of pretense. Chomet’s Blythe is insufferably vain and cruel at first, but shows she can quickly change her tune. Resurreccion’s Joshua is a self-loather with dignity. We do not pity him.
“Hollow” works because these very strange characters are not just antic cartoons. They have some sincerity and sweetness, qualities that give this comedy unexpected depth.