Total Rating: 
***
Previews: 
October 17, 2017
Images: 
Opened: 
November 8, 2017
Ended: 
December 3, 2017
Country: 
USA
State: 
New York
City: 
New York
Company/Producers: 
Public Theater
Theater Type: 
off-Broadway
Theater: 
Public Theater
Theater Address: 
425 Lafayette Street
Phone: 
212-967-7555
Website: 
publictheater.org
Running Time: 
90 min
Genre: 
Drama
Author: 
Julia Cho
Director: 
Neel Keller
Review: 

Bang! Bang! Bang! You’d better get used to that sound if you plan to experience Office Hour at the Public. There’s not much gunfire in the beginning, but just wait. It’s there.

The production begins with three college teachers in a room with three pendant lights above. David (Greg Keller) and Genevieve (Adeola Role) are warning Gina (Sue Jean Kim) about a student named Dennis (Ki Hong Lee). Dennis is clearly not quite right, to put it mildly. He never speaks in class; wears a black hoodie, cap, and sunglasses all the time; and his writing is filled with extreme violence and graphic pornography. David feels Dennis is “a classic shooter.” Now, having totally freaked out not only his teachers but also the other students in the class, he’s Gina’s burden. David and Genevieve are hopeful that Gina will be able to reach him and that she’ll persuade him to get help, drop out, or at least stop being an English major. It soon becomes evident why they feel Gina will be on his wavelength; they’re both Asian.

Gina is strong and determined. She arranges a student/teacher meeting with Dennis, and informs him that he has 20 minutes with her; it’s his time to discuss his writing, or whatever else is on his mind. At this point, the versions of what happens in the classroom change. In some of the vignettes, there is shooting involved. In others, Dennis clips his nails, or Gina gets him to write something, or they discuss who’s actually accepted as an American, or he confesses he’s a virgin. In every version, Dennis is angry and alienated, and Gina is trying to get through to him.

There are long pauses throughout, and much of the show is by turns uncomfortable and tedious. Sue Jean Kim is nothing short of brilliant. She turns her soul inside out, and lets us see that Gina, too, is childlike, even while she’s strong. She has memories of her father which, like the memories Dennis confesses, aren’t always positive. Kim even manages to bring humor to what is basically a very dark event. Her imitation of an Asian mother on the phone excoriating her progeny brings to mind the best routines of Margaret Cho. Her tears, her compassion, her need to reach and to heal the broken boy comes across as totally organic.

There’s a real question as to what degree Office Hour actually works for an audience. The topic is relevant; it seems that every day on the news there’s another incident involving people being shot. How can we ever understand the kind of human being who commits these heinous acts? Dennis does, indeed fit the stereotype, and we do get a glimpse into what makes him tick. But the audience is so wrung out by all the tension of the piece that by the time the shooting becomes frenetic, several members react with laughter. The actors are not at fault; they all do a superb job; it’s just that the moment takes us too far over the edge.

Yes, there’s a point being made, and it’s a valid one. While there’s no doubt that gun violence is a seminal problem in America, with this show, it’s quite possible that the Public may be throwing away its shot.

Parental: 
gunshots
Cast: 
Greg Keller (David), Sue Jean Kim (Gina), Ki Hong Lee (Dennis), Adeola Role (Genevieve)
Technical: 
Sets: Takeshi Kata, Costumes: Kaye Voyce, Lighting: Christopher Akerlind, Original Music & Sound: Bray Poor
Critic: 
Michall Jeffers
Date Reviewed: 
November 2017