Breathed to life by a talented ensemble, the play opens with John Lee (played by Bao Quoc Hoang) center stage, dressed in all white, surrounded by four “Voices” (played by Dain Geist, Tommy Stuart, Alan Brincks and Michael J. Heard) at each corner of the stage, dressed in all black. The Voices reveal both Lee’s inner psychology and perceptions about homosexuality in early ’90s London, and each of the four men portrays a variety of characters along the way. They’re integral in shifting the mood of the show, sprinkling in moments of levity and humor between the most tragic elements of the plot.
Hoang turns out a brave, three-dimensional performance as Porcelain’s central character. He accomplishes telegraphing Lee’s feelings of loneliness and isolation, and while Lee’s murder of Hope (a “crime of passion,” riddled with anger and feelings of rejection) isn’t excused, Hoang creates a multi-layered character that gives us some insight into why people sometimes do horrible things. Xenophobia is a prevalent theme, as Lee reveals his struggles with society’s often white standards of beauty and the racism/homophobia he’s faced as a gay Asian man.
Porcelain seeks for us to understand each other’s differences. The relationship between Lee and Dr. Worthing (a psychologist, played by Geist) is complicated both by Lee’s refusal to give Worthing information, and Worthing’s prejudice toward Lee. Yet by the play’s end, Lee becomes more comfortable around Worthing (even asking him to not leave in their final scene together) while Worthing seems to shed some of his animus — there’s noticeably more warmth in his interactions with Lee. Stuart gives a heart wrenching performance as Lee’s father, and Brincks sinks his teeth into the play’s more humorous, absurdist aspects as an unethical TV personality.
Porcelain isn’t for the faint of heart — to say that the subject matter broached is sensitive would be an understatement. Violence, strong language, and rape are just a few of the darker parts of the play. But what Porcelain has to say is important, and is perhaps more relevant than ever in our current climate. What it does best is accentuating the murky nature of humanity, exploring the “why” behind tragic actions. Bonnie Hewett’s direction is laser-focused and meticulous, ensuring that Porcelain’s key questions to its audience aren’t ever lost — the sudden fading to black at key junctures, the well-timed lighting changes, every single moment of Caduceus Theater Arts Company’s production of Porcelain is well thought-out. It’ll take you on a roller coaster of tragedy, black comedy, and raw vulnerability.