You can have your cake and eat it too. That is, if your cake is family drama and your idea of eating is getting to watch some exotic dancing (or perhaps that’s just the frosting). Worth has convincing acting, though it’s a bit overwrought, and a nice script that, although basic, lives in something very real. Okay, so if you have your cake and eat it too, it won’t be fit for a queen—but a Ho-Ho can be satisfying too.
Suzanne Lee hasn’t written the classiest play, but it is one of the most unambiguous. Stereotype and situation keep things black and white, and director Marc Parees lingers, indulgently, in those moments of exaggeration. (Because they’re fun; because sometimes it takes an Ebonics-speaking Vietnamese stripper to speak the truth.) The quieter moments are occasionally stilted, or unmotivated, but they remain real: a symptom, perhaps, of America today.
Worth opens with karaoke at a funeral, an easy opportunity to illustrate Edward Lee’s pathos. This broken-English speaking father (odd, since he’s also an executive) bravely attempts to sing, before he chokes up at memories of his wife. His daughter, Joanna, comforts him (an easy opportunity to exploit the generational gap), and a widow, Sunny Pak, aims to do the same. The twist is that Pak’s intentions are pure, and Edward’s—once he loses his job and reneges on his daughter’s Ivy-League tuition—become twisted. He pretends to love her, as she turns out to be rich, and the daughter, who can’t stand the father’s lies, takes up stripping, as all good girls gone wild do. These three illustrate the ambiguous value system we have, the shady ethical brokering we do within it, and ultimately, the titular “worth” of a life, love, and lie.
The acting is fine, but not especially flattering. Jenn Pae (Joanna’s cousin, Grace) has a flimsy role to throw herself into that exposes nothing of her own life (despite her intimate stripping), but passes judgment on everyone else’s and Constance Boardman remains so much the dutiful widow/matriarch that only in the last scene does she have the opportunity to really live. Hana Moon, who plays the daughter, has the most range, and it’s through her interactions with the others that they seem less cardboard-ish. On the other hand, Ben Wang, who plays the father, is often unintelligible, and even when he’s clear, his emotions are often all over the map. He sits around in a bathrobe flipping idly through Playboy, even as he calls for his daughter, and then acts surprised when she catches him in the kitchen with the magazine. It’s as if he has no expectations; and that makes him a very limited actor.
For the most part, Marc Parees does well with the script: Lee Savage’s sliding-door set neatly shuffles the scenes, compartmentalizing and tidying up all the loose ends. The production is extremely clear, but it keeps a lot bottled up, and gets sloppy when props start crossing the neatly arranged boundaries. (This would work as an artistic choice if it seemed intentional). It may not be classy, but life isn’t, and hey: there’s a live strip show. In all seriousness, modern plays could use more stripping: when you bare it all, there’s no room left to hide anything.
Urban Stages (259 West 30th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances: Monday, Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 7:00 [END 6/3]
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.