Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Procedure: A Successful Operation

Last Friday I saw a new play, a good play. Whenever one sees a new work it is always a gamble. The Procedure, a new and exciting work by Marcus Yi, was mounted at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Nestled in the East Village, Gene Frankel and his vision gave birth to ensemble pieces and experimental agit prop theatre with a message. These pieces were well crafted and in a creative way said to society, something is wrong. The Procedure as a piece not only follows that tradition, but honors it, addressing both racism, homophobia, and the subtle xenophobia that still infects America.
The play opens with the main character, Adrian, making a flag of Singapore talking to his mother. He is a man living the American dream. He is from Asia, and he has gone to law school and become successful. However, there is one thing that is a strike against him in our society, he is gay. Adrian is speaking to his mother, who reveals his sister is getting married in Singapore.  Excited, Adrian wants to bring his partner and soon to be husband Jacob. Adrian’s mother explains that while Jacob may come, he cannot sit at the family table and must be present as his “friend.” Then he challenges his mother, who has gray hair and has been going on a hyper diatribe about how she will not eat Asian food not prepared by Asians, about whether or not she accepts her son’s homosexuality.

Stephen Thornton in a promo shot for The Procedure

That is when the fourth wall is broken and the mother speaks. Fenny Novyane, the actress, who plays the mother, reveals depth in this monologue. As the mother, on the surface she is portrayed as an old world eccentric on the surface. However, with the expert acting of Ms. Novyane, it is revealed she has more depth. A deeply religious woman, she reveals she loves her son yet struggles with his homosexuality. During a beach accident she says God rescued her and promised her a son. She dedicated her first son to God and then Adrian revealed he was gay. While she loves her son, she is entirely unsure of what to do when it comes to presenting his sexuality due to her old world point of view. Some of it is the mother protector role, and some of it is the world she came from where she feels she failed Adrian in some way. This creates one layer of discomfort that will continue the entire play which leads the audience members to question what they believe.
A minute later the fourth wall is broken once again and we meet Adrian on a deeper level. Played by Stephen Thorton, Adrian goes from the initial quiet nerd who seems dismissively moody to someone who also has considerably more dimension. Adrian explains he always knew he was gay since he was a child, and often masqueraded in his mother’s clothing. His mother, in denial, dismissed this. Adrian doesn’t understand why she is surprised and bothered by this when it seemed obvious. While it is clear he loves his mother, there is tension between the two in regards to his sexuality as well as identity. This is because Adrian believes that he was born gay, whereas her mother believes it was a parenting mistake. With this opening, the audience is introduced to the experience of being the ultimate outsider in America: Gay and an immigrant. Again, one is left wondering, why the prejudice? What is the truth? What about the American dream?
Next we see Adrian and his new husband Jacob in the office to get their marriage license and undergo questioning to make sure the marriage is legitimate due to Adrian’s immigration status. In contrast to Adrian who is rather rigid at times, Jacob is more straightforward and relaxed. A Native New Yorker, he is the second half to this new union. Right away, the relationship is clear as the two bicker at times like a traditional hederonormative husband and wife. Reynaldo Rivera, the actor portraying Jacob, also gives the character significant depth. While Jacob loves Adrian, he is somewhat obtuse and oblivious to the needs and feelings of his partner. This is not intentional because he is cold hearted, but rather because their experiences are different. The two men are interrogated by an agent portrayed by Lauren Gralton, who does not mask her ever present homophobia by asking inappropriate yet probing questions such as, “Which one is the husband and which one is the wife?” Both spouses stumble over oblivious questions such as which one keeps their toothbrush where. Adrian is questioned by the female agent. Jacob the male (Richard Glucksberg). Finally they are able to get their marriage license, however the issue is with Adrian being an immigrant. He is told that yes, they will be able to get the license. However, Adrian has to get a microchip implanted under his eye, hence “The Procedure.”
After this we see the first of many vignettes. In these star actors Lauren Gralton, Richard Glucksberg, and Shubhra Prakash. In each of these vignettes, the actors advertise the microchips. While these vignettes, which continue until the end of the show, are hysterical, they also evoke the agit prop element of the piece. In each mini-commercial, the microchip user is promised things such as better hair, a better sex life, etc. These are a harsh, funny, yet frankly honest take on the moronic consumer culture that is America mixed with the xenophobia and prejudice that is acceptable.
The couple being grilled

In the next scene it is revealed Adrian and Jacob have other issues in their relationship. While Jacob loves Adrian, he doesn’t understand his husband’s pain. Adrian does not want the microchip implant and feels this is inhuman. He has a point. He works, pays taxes, and has made a home in America. Jacob, on the other hand, is less than supportive. While he loves his husband, he wants him to get the implant so they can be together and won’t be deported. However, in his quest to make their life together he does not understand why Adrian objects. Then it is revealed Adrian feels like an outsider due to his coming to America as an immigrant. This can be seen when Adrian invites Jacob to meet a friend of his from Singapore. Jacob explains that he “cannot understand” Adrian’s friends from Singapore by the way they talk. Adrian points out Jacob understands him, and then corrects Adrian for saying Ikea wrong. Despite Jacob’s devotion, there is a serious disconnect between the two men. It is revealed during a dinner with friends Jacob and a Korean American girl knew the theme song to an American TV show, and Adrian did not. While Jacob does care about his husband, it is clear there is tension in the relationship because he does not identify. This is when Adrian first proposes to Jacob they move back to Singapore. Jacob is horrified.
Adrian then gives a heart wrenching monologue about coming to America and feeling apart from as opposed to a part of. He explains that because he was from Singapore, he was the only Asian like himself. Adrian tells a story about his first day of class and a Vietnamese girl, who he explains he is still friends with asked him, “What are you?” He says very poignantly and matter of factly, “I am a person.” This is a testament to how America, despite being the country many want to flock to, is closed minded, sheltered, and at times bigoted the way it labels people. As a nation, most unfortunately, America has a label for someone or something not white and male. This has been an isolating experience for immigrants over the years, and it is captured masterfully during this scene. That is when Adrian comes up with a solution, he is moving back to Singapore.
In the next scene Adrian is having lunch with his friend Dawn from Singapore, brilliantly portrayed by Shubhara Prakash. In this scene, Prakash steals the show distinguishing herself from the ensemble and shows promise as an actress, and as a theatre fan I cannot wait to see where she goes next. She is funny, on the mark, and brutally honest as she shoots down Adrian’s delusions of a better life in his home country. Dawn explains that while Adrian would always be welcome in Singapore, he would have to stay in the closet because being homosexual is not accepted in that culture. This creates more tension for the viewers. Yes, while Adrian is experiencing homophobia, racism, and xenophobia in America, he is more free to be who he is. On the other hand, if he returned to Singapore, he would have to live a lie.
So he decides to get the microchip implanted. This is after pressure mounts from Jacob and his mother who tells him a disturbing yet on the mark story about conformity. Going to a free clinic, Adrian sits next to a blonde girl named Nadine (Lauren Gralton) who announces she is there for her fourth abortion. Funny and cheeky as the dumb blonde, the character is also appropriate for an agit prop piece as she serves as a message that birth control should be more readily available. At first Adrian is horrified as this young woman violates his psyche with disgusting jokes and comments, but then mentions she is protesting the microchip operations with her friends in DC. Adrian’s ears begin to perk up. Now he has an option, the option that every American dreams of, for their voice to be heard.
The next scene is Adrian getting ready for The Procedure. The Doctor (Richard Glucksberg) is frightening, almost evocative of A Clockwork Orange. He explains that they must get Adrian ready for the micropchip implant also known as the “The Procedure.” While the doctor gets ready, Adrian has a disturbing dream sequence and decides that he cannot go through with the operation despite what it will cost him. He now knows having his voice heard is no longer an option, it is the thing he must do in order to be heard. It is what is necessary to say something is wrong.
Adrian and Nadine go to Washington in order to protest “The Procedure.” However, the protest fails as both Nadine and Adrian are arrested. Upset, Jacob goes to the jail where Adrian is being held. Because of his immigration status, he is facing the threat of deportation. During his encounter with Jacob, Adrian, who began the play as clean cut, is now defiant. He informs his husband that the charges are “trumped up.” Due to his status as an immigrant, Adrian is facing deportation. However, Feldman (Richard Glucksberg) informs him that if he gets the implant, he will not be deported and they can fight the charges. Adrian is indignant, however Jacob, despite being distant at times from his husband, does not want to lose the one man he truly loves.
This is followed by a short montage of everyone speaking various messages from the play whether they be his mother, the vignette actors, Jacob, his friend from Singapore and all other characters. That is when Adrian is defeated. The last scene of the play, in an emotional defeat, shows Adrian with a patch over his right eye. Adrian has gotten “The Procedure.” Adrian has sold out. This experience is a showcase to the unfortunate allegory that so many immigrants are forced to endure terrible hardships such as these in order to make it in America. A vision like this shows the American dream has a perverse darkside.
Lastly, I would like to give a special attention to Sonia Nam, who’s attention to detail as an assistant director was on the mark. Each scene and lighting as well as sound choice added to the element that was achieved. Without the effort of good direction this entire piece would not have been conceivable let alone possible. However, this all came together with the brilliant writing and vision of Marcus Yi.

The Procedure is a work of sheer genius. There is no weak link among the cast. The writing is strong, evocative, funny, and truthful. It shows deep down we are all people who unfortunately categorize each other based on our outsides rather than our insides, and give into fear and prejudice when confronted with outside possibility. A true piece of old school agit prop mixed with modern flavor, The Procedure is a must see. 

Adrian losing and submitting the to American Dream/Lie

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