we just tell you what we like
Sometimes we learn more about a parent after they die. Sometimes that learning leads to new discoveries about ourselves, and our parents fulfill their teacher role post mortem. And should I add that we also can make them up as we go through life – what are memories, after all, but our own construction – and meals can be at the center of the memories. My father spoke to us at dinner time, so we could construct our image of him around food, but not being a great communicator, we learned more about him after he died.
These issues, how we learn from a parent before and after they die, and how food can be the transmitter of memories, are central to the new play Aubergine, a world premiere developed at Berkeley Rep. Julia Cho, first invited to be part of the Rep’s Ground Floor initiative, was commissioned to further develop this play, which then became part of the current season. This, in my opinion, may be one of the best plays of the season, one that is more characteristic of what this Berkeley stage has boldly seen flourished.
The play is very nicely threaded through numerous scenes building our image of a son about to lose his father, and trying to deal with how his father never liked what he did, which is: cooking. No matter how the son has learned French cooking in France, compensating for the loss of his mother, the father’s truth is that he doesn’t like to eat. We will learn why in further scenes, which include the philosophical presence of the nurse (can I please get this nurse when I’m at that stage of my life?), and the quick arrival of the emotionally connected, funny uncle (don’t miss his playing of how he arrived).
The thread goes on and around the scenes. After talking of eating in front of a mirror when there was nothing else around him after the war, we have a scene of father and son in front of each other at the dinner table. We close circle after circle, until the epilogue is connected to the prologue, and we all go “Ah!” It is a pleasure when I’d like to replay some of these moments in my mind.
We have had the pleasure of laughing at scenes of a David Henry Hwang play depicting cultural differences between Asia and “the West,” and we find a good deal of the same situations here. But here the differences are reinforcing the connection: after all, the first humans came here from Asia, and we, by the mere fact that we have chosen to live here, enriched our lives with Asian traditions. In Aubergine, the chef had gone to France to perfect the art of cooking to complement for the loss of his mother, and we go full circle meeting here.
Cyprus Restaurant, around the corner, has an Aubergine (eggplant) dish that I like very much. It’s called khoresht e bademjan and may be a great thing to get before you see the play, going full circle around the earth!