Theatre review: The Theory of Everything – what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay

It’s probably a good thing that the characters in The Theory of Everything already live in Vegas as there becomes no need for them to adhere to the tenet that what happens there stays there.

And there is a lot happening in Thai-American Prince Gomolvilas’ play, well beyond the search for extraterrestrials that frames the piece.  While ethnic identity is the main theme here, much like the scientific theory, Gomolvilas crams so many other issues into his two hour play that it seems at times to be as unwieldy as the alien-holding cosmos itself.

Gathering atop the roof of a Vegas wedding chapel, as they have done every weekend for the last three years, a group of Asian Americans meet to search for the existence of aliens (“and not the illegal kind” reminds one of the characters early on).  As they gaze upwards above the tacky Vegas skyline, their gaze also turns introspectively and the seven, across three generations, reveal some of their deepest desires and deepest secrets.

Most of what is revealed is accomplished through the everyday interactions of its characters as they come and go atop the chapel roof, but Gomolvilas goes a step further providing each of his characters with their own expository monologue.  Designed to provide additional insight into the personal cross-roads that each of his character finds themselves in, it also had a tendency to interrupt.

Members of the cast of the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production of The Theory of Everything.
Members of the cast of the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production of The Theory of Everything.

Highlights include BC Lee as Hiro, the co-owner of the chapel, who yearns to win the lotto and return to Japan.  Lee drolly shuffles on-and-off in his slippers, initially splattering small bon mots of wisdom on the roof like a pigeon, but soon reveals a much deeper realization about his life.  Lee is well matched with Aurora Chan as wife Patty, who brings one of the most natural performances of the night as the group’s optimist who soon realizes that optimism only gets you so much.

Among the younger players, Alvin Tran and Isaac Kwok easily attack Gomolvilas’ exploration of their place in society as Asian-Americans.  Caught between the two cultures, the duo’s search for identity is both funny and surprisingly insightful.  Tran’s big reveal in act one is one of the best scenes of the night.

Staged in the round as if the audience were the aliens hovering in mid-air along the edges of the rooftop, director Alfred Liu makes good use of the black box Roundhouse theatre.  At times the staging meant a few of the conversations were lost, but that could have been mitigated by moving the seats right to the acting space’s edge.

Despite a few good performances, Gomolvilas is so ambitious that he allows for few emotional connections to be made and in the end The Theory of Everything becomes a show about everything and nothing.

3 Out of 5 StarsThe Theory of Everything

By Prince Gomolvilas.  Directed by Alfred Gordon Liu.  A Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production.  On stage at the Roundhouse Community Centre through January 12, 2013.  Visit http://www.vact.ca for tickets and information.

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