David Roberts, Chief Theatre Critic, Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member
With a nod (intentional/unintentional) to the genre of disillusioned youth represented by Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 “This Is Our Youth,” Carla Ching’s “Nomad Hotel” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 dives headlong into the lives of a triangle of vagabond California youth yearning to belatedly separate and individuate from adults who have been less than successful in providing safe and secure environments and unconditional-nonjudgmental love.
Alix (a languid and defeated Molly Griggs) and her mother Fiona (an equivocating and frenzied Samantha Mathis) are kicked out from pay-by-the-day motels for not meeting payment. Mason (a charming and sensitive Christopher Larkin) is an undocumented Asian teenager living in fear of being deported and equally fearful of his domineering father James (a strident and cagey Andrew Pang) who lives and works in China or Japan or wherever his special brand of “making collections” might take him. And Alix’s ex-boyfriend Oscar (a spirited and flawed Ian Duff) is homeless, having recently lived in a group home, and most recently kicked out of his new girlfriend Lila’s place. Three lost children and two ineffective adults at odds with visions of the future.
The two teenagers meet obstacle after obstacle in their efforts to move forward with their lives, and many of those obstacles are of their own making. Alix’s skipping weeks of school results in grades that do not allow her to matriculate at Pratt in New York City. Instead, she plans to follow Oscar there – plans that “go astray.” Mason (and Oscar) face the ravages of racism, and Mason battles unsuccessfully with his overbearing (and abusive) father James and sees no future in accepting financial support and housing as the expense of his physical and emotional health (Mason suffers from severe anxiety attacks).
Throughout the play, Mason nurtures a baby bird he finds and brings into the house his father provides for him “to save it.” Mason cradles the bird and changes the dressing on her wing – he’s convinced the bird is female. The bird is an obvious trope for the brokenness shared by Mason and Alix and their need to be set free from their current impairments and entrapments. After discovering their love for one another, and after cradling one another and mending each other’s brokenness, it is time to run. Although this provides a modicum of catharsis, playwright Carla Ching takes too long to reach that resolution.
Under Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s lackluster direction, the cast – with obvious commitment to the script – cannot overcome competing with one cliché after another and Carla Ching’s less than fully developed characters. Additionally, both playwright and director make some odd choices. For example, in an early conversation between Mason and his father, James undresses and, instead of putting on a bathrobe as the script suggests, sits in his underwear throughout the call. Also, instead of allowing Fiona’s and James’s faults to reveal themselves over time, both characters are treated heavy-handedly.
There is nothing new in “Nomad Motel” and the important themes the play shrouds are ineffectively and weakly developed. The young actors give the play their very best and cannot be held accountable for “Nomad Hotel’s” wandering off course.
The cast of “Nomad Motel” features Ian Duff, Molly Griggs, Christopher Larkin, Samantha Mathis, and Andrew Pang.
“Nomad Motel’s” creative team features scenic design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, costume design by Loren Shaw, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design and original compositions by Emily Gardner Xu Hall, fight direction by Ryan-James Hatanaka, dialect coaching by Joy Lanceta Coronel, and casting by TBD Casting: Stephanie Yankwitt, CSA; Margaret Dunn.
“Nomad Hotel” runs at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Sunday June 23, 2019. For more information about the production including the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, visit https://atlantictheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes including one 10-minute intermission.
Photo: Molly Griggs and Christopher Larkin in “Nomad Hotel.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.