Theatre Review: ‘Nomad Hotel’ at Horizon Theatre

Horizon Theatre is currently presenting Carla Ching’s “Nomad Motel,” directed by Melissa Foulger, running through Oct. 21. It is the third of three plays Horizon calls “New American Dreams,” exploring the changing face of America today. The plays ask who are the new Americans and what are their dreams and obstacles?

“Nomad Motel” is a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, playing in three regional cities fine-tuning itself (hopefully) before heading to New York next year for an Off-Broadway run.

We’re dealing with “motel kids,” children without much money whose families are living in weekly-renting cheap motels; and also “parachute kids,” who have been sent to America from wealthy families abroad and have been dropped, usually by themselves, into opulent homes. The wealthy families (say, from China) think that their kids will get into better colleges in the U.S. than in the more competitive systems abroad.

Mason (Kevin Qian) is from China and is living alone in greater L.A. He’s been sent there by his father James (Wai Yim), who works for the Hong Kong mafia. Usually James is wealthy, but not always. Mason, a likable high school senior, makes friends with Alix (Ashley Anderson), a motel kid living with her mother Fiona (Liza Jaine) and two younger brothers. Fiona always seems to have a plan to better their situation, but her plans usually flop.

Oh, yes, Oscar (Marcellis Cutler) sometimes hangs out with Alix; they used to be an item, but since that relationship is kaput, the raison d’être for his presence seems a puzzlement, even to the playwright.

The cast is quite strong, especially Ms. Anderson as Alix. We well remember her breakout performance last year in Essential Theatre’s “Ada and the Memory Machine,” by Lauren Gunderson. She was vibrant and irrepressible, projecting a fiery intelligence. She brings much of those same qualities to “Nomad Motel,” although “Ada” was a much more compelling play. Alix’ relationship with the gentle, talented Mason (he’s something of a music whiz) is the best part of “Nomad”; we see her gradually infuse him with her moxie and strength—which he needs to confront his dictatorial father.

I can’t get into the rather convoluted plot permutations, but I must say that “Nomad” feels like a work in progress. Some major tweaking is needed; it’s too long (over two hours and 45 minutes), often feels contrived, and has not one, but several deux ex machinas. Director Foulger, usually one of Atlanta’s best, has slipped a bit here; there seems to be a lack of care in assembling the play. For example, the actors and set seem too far from the audience, especially the motel scene, which is set high and as far away from the audience as one can get. In a theatre designed for intimacy, this seems an odd choice.

The actual details of the set are fine, designed by the multiple award-winning Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay.

Even though the heart and intentions of the play are lovely and important (the world is a global village and we’d best embrace that concept); and families can be havens or horrors, depending on the love and patience of its members, it’s the actors who save the day here. Ms. Jaine and Mr. Yim are both compelling and talented. Mr. Qian gets stronger as the play moves along (which suits his character well); and Mr. Cutler, bless him, makes the very most of an oddly written, almost extraneous role.

The very impressive résumé of playwright Ching would certainly indicate she possesses the adroitness to streamline her well-intentioned, often powerful work as it continues to roll toward its Off-Broadway premiere.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

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