Review: Durango (fu-GEN Theatre Company/Theatre Smash)

17884662006_0969683d59_zA family trip unravels; fu-GEN/Theatre Smash present Julia Cho’s play Durango in Toronto

Theatre Smash and fu-GEN Theatre Company have partnered to present American playwright Julia Cho’s Durango, a beautifully-written, character-driven script that centres on a Korean-American family’s road trip to the eponymous Colorado town. It’s a compelling portrait of a family buckling under the weight of expectation and struggling to re-define themselves and their relationships with each other.

At the start of the play, Boo-Seng Lee (Hiro Kanagawa), the father, is laid off from a job he worked for over 20 years. Hiding his recent job loss, he embarks on a road trip with his sons Isaac (David Yee), an aspiring medical student, and Jimmy (Philip Nozuka), an honour roll student and competitive swimmer.

Cho’s play is structured like a typical road trip movie where characters who are undergoing a transition in their lives embark on a journey, during which they inevitably discover things about themselves and ultimately reach some epiphany. Durango has the style, structure and feel of an indie movie and reminded me of great road trip films like Transamerica or One Week.

The elements of the first-generation immigrant experience incorporated into Durango are the parts that most resonated with me. Boo-Seng has sacrificed his own comfort, happiness and satisfaction toiling away at a monotonous clerical job to ensure a better future for his sons. Their father’s sacrifices inevitably put a huge weight of expectation on Isaac and Jimmy, neither of whom are happy doing what they’re doing but fear disappointing their father.

It’s a story that really hits close to home for me. The debt of gratitude I felt I owed my immigrant parents for the sacrifices they made for me pushed me to study Aerospace Engineering, the degree which is now just a cool story I tell at parties. I imagine many first-generation immigrants and their children can relate to the themes in Durango.

The Lee family’s journey is brought vividly to life by some strong performances. Kanagawa, Yee and Nozuka have an amazing onstage rapport. I especially loved the dynamic between Yee and Nozuka, who sketch out a relationship built on love and camaraderie overlaid with a healthy dose of sibling rivalry. They genuinely feel like brothers.

Unfortunately, I thought the production didn’t match the quality of the script and performances. The choice to use a large section of a home roof as the main set element is random and didn’t serve the story. I also often found director Ashlie Corcoran’s staging a bit fussy; the constant reconfiguration of chairs and furniture was distracting and the lengthy scene changes that required actors to set up large scenic elements drew me out of the story. However, the production design is largely saved by John Gzowski’s sound design and the evocative soundscapes he created to complement each scene.

Despite those quibbles, I really enjoyed Durango. It’s a beautiful, poignant and often funny road trip story. I found myself really investing in and relating to the characters and I thought that their stories revealed some universal truths about coming of age as a family. If you’re the type of person who loves indie, character-driven road trip movies, you can’t miss Durango.


  • Durango is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.) through May 31, 2015
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00PM, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30PM
  • Tickets ($20.00 to $37.00, pay-what-you-can on Sundays) available online

Photo of Philip Nozuka and Hiro Kanagawa by Jordan Probst