Monthly Archive for: ‘April, 2013’

STUCK ELEVATOR at A.C.T. is ambitious and a long 81 minutes

Julius Ahn as Guang in STUCK ELEVATOR at A.C.T. Photo BY Kevin Berne

STUCK ELEVATOR: A Theatrical Piece.Music by Byron Au Toung. Libretto by Aaron Jafferis. Directed by Chay Yew. American Conservatory Theater, 450 Geary St., S.F. (415) 749-2228. 16 – 28, 2013.

STUCK ELEVATOR at A.C.T. is ambitious and a long 81 minutes 

San Franciscowith its plurality of Asians is probably the perfect venue for the world premiere of Stuck Elevator with a Chinese protagonist, his family and a mostly oriental production crew. To further appeal to the locals, while the libretto is in English, Chinese super-titles are used. It is a clever idiosyncrasy.

 The entire production can rightfully be called clever but a more appropriate designation would be ‘eclectic” and the PR material labels it “a hybrid of musical theater, opera, and solo performance.”  The single word ‘opera’ would be equally appropriate. The stark libretto is sung mostly in long stretches of resistive and hip-hop rap. The staging is brilliant and that alone is worth a visit. The entire production that is packed into the 81 minutes (without intermission) becomes tedious although it is often mesmerizing. 

The libretto is based on the true story of a 35 year old Ming Kuang Chenoa a Chinese “take out” delivery boy for the Happy Dragon Restaurant inBronxwho was stuck in an elevator for 81 hours. It features Julius Ahn, given the name of Guāng, in the lead and a very competent ensemble of Raymond J. Lee, Marie-France Arcilla, Jose Perez and Joseph Anthony Foronda – all of whom play multiple roles. 

The 81 days is compressed into 81 minutes with a series of over-lapping scenes, some taking place in actual time but mostly in the mind of the trapped Guāng. He is working the sometimes dangerous “take out” job to earn money for his family still inChinaand also to pay off a huge debt to the Snakehead who smuggled him intoNew Yorkinside a cargo container. During that stifling trip his nephew has died of suffocation. 

Interestingly he initially thinks about losing money to his friend/competitor Mexican Marco to whom he has sold his cell phone that would have been his contact with the outside world. He thinks about his wife Ming and son Wang Yue and imagines they are there with him. An interesting conceit: When he fantasizes talking with Ming, Marco answers in Spanish. This is the start of hallucinations that become more bizarre as the hours, morph into days.

 His anger rises as he recognizes that he is an invisible immigrant stuck in the elevator and he eats the few fortune cookies and sauce packets in his delivery bag. Guang’s mind is obsessed with thoughts of his nephew’s death and the time he was mugged losing $200. That last memory elicits a bladder spasm wetting his pants. 

All the previous scenes are performed with the stage in blacks and grays. As his hallucinations become more outlandish color and humor is injected in the proceedings. The elevator becomes a slot machine inAtlantic Cityand when he pushes the button he wins the jackpot, color lights up the video projections, the ensemble cavort in amazing costumes. The winnings are used to buy a home and he and is family can now live the good life inAmerica. . . the futile goal of every immigrant is fulfilled. 

His letters exchange between Guang andChinaare folded paper airplanes that are flung on the stage and into the audience. . . a great way to involve the audience into the mix. In his dreams he wrestles with an Elevator Monster, complete in a glistening metallic costume only to be temporarily rescued by a Fortune Cookie monster that is revealed as Ming when the ever dangerous Snakehead rips off the Cookie Monsters mask. Alas Guang is defeated. 

A mugging scene enters Guang’s dream as he is stabbed with a pocket knife. Realizing he is not dead he imagines himself bicycling through the night sky over the city with Ming, Wang Yue and Marco before the 81 hours is up and the elevator door opens. End of play. It is to be noted that earlier Quang eats his last fortune cookie finding a blank fortune. Symbolic? Of course. 

Scenic designer Daniel Ostling; costume designer MyungHee Cho; lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols; video designer Kate Freer, IMA; and sound designer Mikhail Fiksel; music director Dolores Duran-Cefalu; choreography by Stephen Buescher; orchestrations by Byron Au Young.   

Kedar K Adour, MD

Courtesy of

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