By Kyoung Park; Directed by Carlos Armesto

Yanghee Lee dances in disOriented. Photo by Lauren Rayner.

BOTTOM LINE: A family drama that explores the complexities and tensions that arise from family relations and how they are exacerbated by distance and time, as well as cultural and generational differences.

Two-thirds of the way through disOriented, five major characters take the stage in a sequence in contrast from the rest of the show. The central character, Ju Yeon, is conspicuously absent from the stage but her role is clear: she is the tie that binds these people together (the on-stage characters are her mother and father, her two sons, and her husband). In a sense, the audience becomes Ju Yeon as the characters alternate lines that illustrate their individual quirks and demands, punctuated by the abrupt snaps of a paper fan opening, as a dancer moves dizzily among the actors. The effect is indeed disorienting, and I realized then just how difficult life must be for Ju Yeon. She is essentially torn in five directions as she struggles to meet the demands of some of her family members while shrinking away from the others.

DisOriented centers around Ju Yeon’s first journey back to Korea since she left many years before when her husband asked her to move to New York with him. A death in the family drives her to return to her native country and to her parents, who she had abruptly abandoned. In New York, Ju Yeon attempts to hold together a family that is drifting in many different directions, while dealing with a lingering sense of obligation to her parents half a world away.

For all the emotional discomfort that Ju Yeon’s situation entails, though, disOriented is remarkably easy to watch. The cast carries the weighty story valiantly and the chemistry between the characters is strong and complex. Virginia Wing deserves special attention for her role as Ouihalmoni, Ju Yeon’s disabled mother. Wing brilliantly embodies a traditional Korean mother who is bewildered by the ways of the modern world; her character is both commanding and pathetic, but still manages to bring laughter to the audience, helping to save the play from being an all-around downer.

There is a strong sense of momentum to this production that is the direct result of some of the more clever directorial and design choices. The set is minimal, using subtle touches (such as a neon sign and kitchen counters) to denote a few different scenes on the same stage. This setup allows for two scenes to unfold simultaneously. The story is also remarkably easy to follow, considering the fact that the action jumps between the present and the past. The lack of linearity is communicated with cues in costume and hair that let us know when we are seeing the Ju Yeon of the past as opposed to the Ju Yeon of today. Perhaps the most compelling element, however, is a series of Korean fan dances, performed by Yanghee Lee, that work thematically to echo the growing sense of discord between the characters.

Playwright Kyoung Park says that disOriented is based on the relations between members of his own Chilean-Korean family. Though the story would certainly appeal to an audience who is familiar with the kinds of tensions that cross-cultural families endure, it also works as a window into that world for those whose families are not fragmented by distance and cultural differences.

(DisOriented plays at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on Theater Row, 416 W. 42nd Street, through March 5, 2011. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30PM, Saturdays at 3PM and 7:30PM, and Sundays at 4PM. General admission tickets are $18 or $15 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information visit or or call 212.279.4200)