Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kung Fu **

Although David Henry Hwang's biographical play about martial arts star Bruce Lee, now at Signature Theatre, comes to life fitfully during the many action sequences that skillfully combine martial arts, Chinese opera moves and modern dance, it is dragged down by sketchy "and then this happened next" scenes with surprisingly inert dialogue. It explores his difficult father-son relationship and his unending battle against the prevailing American image of Asian men, but simplifies or omits many facets of Lee's life in favor of what could pass for the comic book version. Allegedly, the work was originally conceived as a musical, but things didn't work out. Too bad -- that might have been considerably more interesting. Cole Horibe makes an impressive theatrical debut as Lee, Francis Jue is superb as his father and Bradley Fong is endearing in the double role of the young Lee and his son Brandon. Phoebe Strole does her best with the two-dimensional role of Lee's wife Linda. Clifton Duncan, in an amusing stroke of color-blind casting, is a convincing James Coburn. The remainder of the energetic cast are fine too. The play cuts off just as Lee achieves his big breakthrough, sparing us his tragic early death only a few years later. David Zinn's set is generic and unattractive. Anita Yavich's costumes are excellent. Director Leigh Silverman, who has done well with Hwang's work on other occasions, does what she can to hold it all together. There's no escaping the fact that this work is not Hwang at his best. Running time: two hours including intermission.

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