A despondent yet wistful boy plays a series of rhythmically haunting chords and beats on a loop pedal that he adroitly interweaves and syncopates with such meticulousness and emotional purposefulness that belies the rueful yearning that riddles him which he otherwise might not be able to express, it would seem. The boy is alone in a home that seems entirely too massive for him, the ethereal vestiges of a life past hanging in the air of the uncomfortably spacious kitchen. As the boy allows the masterful loop of the melody whose parts he has all created play on, he dotingly tends to something nestled in a blanket on the floor. As the audience, we are given no real answers, only left with the elusive melancholy that consumes the boy and fills the stage.
This is the first scene in City Theatre’s most recent production, Nomad Motel. The play, which interweaves the lives of two ostensibly different but (of course) profoundly similar teenagers whose lives are unraveling due to the extreme lives of their families. Written by Carla Ching, whose other works include Two Kids That Blow Shit Up, TBA, and The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness, the play dramatically and empathetically depicts the struggles, strategies and resilience of children and young adults thrust into a world of effective homelessness and destitution because of their statuses as “parachute kids” or “motel kids.” “Parachute kids,” a relatively pejorative yet descriptive term, are those children from foreign countries who are transplanted to America, often estranged or separated from their families, to pursue a better education. “Motel kids,” on the other hand, are those children whose families have lost their homes or been forced into transience, and thus live from motel rooms in order to have some form of shelter. Ching’s Nomad Motel brilliantly depicts the intersection between these two groups of children who would seem to represent diametrically opposed communities, but rather, find themselves interconnected in ways that profoundly alter and unify them.
The physical staging of Nomad Motel is perhaps the most crucial element, after the expert writing, to the success and poignancy of the play. The majority of the play unfolds in a three-room structure, each room encompassing the piecemeal, thrown-together worlds of Alix (Katie Lynn Eswein) and her mother Fiona (Lisa Velten Smith), Mason (Christopher Larken), and James (Nelson Lee), Mason’s father who occupies unidentifiable spaces in another country as he communicates via phone and fax with his son. The adroitly minimalistic set design of the show both masterfully utilizes the space of the stage while accentuating the loneliness and mettle of the characters inhabiting the rooms. Impressively, the set and movements within manage to transform three barebones rooms into distinct microcosmic entities (and a significant amount of credit should be given to the outstanding light and sound work done throughout the show).
While Nomad Motel is extraordinarily well written, there are moments of overwrought sentiment or hyper-defined caricatures that are, on some level, anticipated for a show that aims to depict both the vast emotionality of teenage life and the complex anguish and stresses of the lives of individuals in specific types of painful dislocation. Both Eswein and Larken are convincing in their portrayal of the two teens who find surprising solace and verisimilitude in the shared vexations of their lives. Larken especially transcends the trope-trappings that could be presupposed for his character, and his delicate yet awkward sensitivity is palpable and authentic, even for those who cannot possible relate to the experiences his character goes through. Much like the ornately blended song passionately created by James in the play’s opening scene, Nomad Motel is an engrossing story that deftly balances the intensely personal resentments and sorrows experienced within families and the far less accessible difficulties and hardships experienced by those in situations of nomadic living. It is a pleasure to enjoy the play before its well-deserved Off-Broadway tour.
Nomad Motel runs on City Theatre’s Mainstage through June 3. For tickets and more information click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews