Aubergine, a new play by Julia Cho, is a mixture of memory, death, and international cuisine. It’s amusing and engaging platform for Korean actors as well. Cho takes on one of the hardest times in our lives: having to care for a loved one as they approach their last days. And for the record, an aubergine is the same thing as an eggplant. It just sounds so much better, and doesn’t make us immediately think of the emoji.
Ray (Tony Nam), struggles to care for himself as he sits by his dying father’s bedside. Ray’s mother passed when he was young, and his relationship with his father was always difficult if not contentious. It’s not difficult to see why Ray’s father (Glenn Kubota), who immigrated to the U.S. after marrying, would find his generally bro-y son frustrating.
Though Ray is a bit rude to his ex-girlfriend, Cornelia (Eunice Bae), his intentions are to ensure that his father is cared for at all times, with breaks from a hospice nurse, and by sleeping at his bedside on the floor. When Ray tries to contact his uncle back in Korea, he realizes the language barrier will make this difficult conversation even harder, so he enlists the help of Cornelia to perform as translator.
Throughout the play each character delivers a monologue about their favorite dish, and the descriptions are compelling for more than just the scrumptious food. The stories flesh out the characters, and it is here that memory thrives. Supposedly smell is strongly linked to memory, and of course, smell to taste. There’s an almost magical realism element in this play in that Ray seems to just know the food he needs to make for a specific person, and this ability is active for everyone he meets, except his father.
One of the most essential elements of Aubergine is the language. A good portion of the play is in Korean, and the best scene is told with a running translation projected onto the interior wall of the home. The integration of the Korean language within the play is more than just a few throwaway lines: Ray’s uncle speaks entirely in Korean. He relies on an expressiveness Ray’s father never demonstrated, and offers a recipe to his French chef nephew. The overarching themes of the story are so universal that it only makes sense to have a cross-cultural conversation about sorrow, pride, and family. With strong writing and performances overall, it’s sure to tug a few heart-strings, and encourages conversation at the end of the play.