Office Hour misses the mark at Berkeley Rep

Daniel Chung (Dennis) in Julia Cho’s Office Hour, directed by Lisa Peterson. A co-production with Long Wharf Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

OFFICE HOUR: Drama by Julia Cho. Directed by Lisa Peterson. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA 94704. 510 647-2949 or  February 22 – March 25, 2018

Office Hour misses the mark at Berkeley Rep.

In 2007 after the mass shooting at the Columbine School neophyte author Aaron Loeb wrote First Person Shooter that received a stellar production at the 99 seat SF Playhouse under the realistic staging of the then budding director Jon Tracy. Office Hour written by the acclaimed Julie Cho and directed by award winning Lisa Peterson bursts with energy and gun fire that misses the mark.

Cho’s partial motivation stemmed from the Virginia Tech massacre by a Korean American shooter. The nationality of that shooter may have influenced her use of Asian actors to play the characters allowing her to add some specificity to important psychological motivations.

The opening scene is loaded with exposition as two creative writing instructors David (Jeremy Kahn) and Genevieve (Kerry Warren) are warning Gina (Jackie Chung) about one of their pupils Dennis (Daniel Chung) who is now her student. He sits in the back of the class, always dressed in black with a hood, dark glasses and never speaks. His writings are ominous, macabre, loaded cannibalism and necrophilia. David has his own “force field” with all the characteristics of a “closet shooter.” Many of his classmates are frightened of him and have quit the classes to avoid him. David has given him a flunking grade. Dennis has all the red flags mentioned in almost every news report when there is a school shooting. But the play must go on and it does with improbabilities piling up.

Creative writing students apparently must spend a “20 minute office hour” with their instructors that accounts for 30% of their final grade.  Hence the plays title as Dennis, dressed exactly as described, enters for his office hour with Gina.  To emphasize the non-linear nature of the play there is a large wall clock whose hands turn in all directions and multiple black outs to support the alternative endings that abound during and at the end of the play.

Cho is a clever writer and the almost one-sided “discussion” between Gina and Dennis make partial sense but in more than one verbal encounter amounts to implausible game-playing. Gina often reiterates the obvious such as “You let yourself be unlikeable.” With Dennis’s retort, “It is a rational response to what I am. I was the problem” and “Society needs people like me.”

Fortunately the play lasts only 80 minutes without intermission and did not earn the usual standing ovation from the opening night audience. The ending is stunningly frightening.

Office Hour premiered at South Coast Rep in April 2016 and you may wish to read those review before you make a decision to go or not go to the Berkeley Rep production.  It is a co-production with Long Wharf Theatre indicating that this reviewer may be biased after reviewing First Person Shooter that deals with similar subject matter in more concrete terms.

CAST: Daniel Chung (Dennis), Jackie Chung (Gina), Jeremy Kahn (David), Kerry Warren (Genevieve).

CREATIVE TEAM: Matt Saunders (scenic designer), Maggie Morgan (costume designer), Scott Zielinski (lighting designer), and Rob Kaplowitz (sound designer).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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