From eggplant to “Aubergine”: the generational power of food
Lucien (Jefferson A. Russell) offers Ray (Tony Nam) an eggplant from his own garden, which then inspires Ray to find his way back to cooking. Photo courtesy of Stan Barouh via Everyman Theatre.

From eggplant to “Aubergine”: the generational power of food

Aubergine sounds so much better than eggplant. It takes a simple word, a simple food, and turns it into something extraordinary, something worth lingering on and savoring.

“Aubergine” at Everyman Theatre does the same thing: it takes a simple concept — the memories we associate with food — and turns it into a deeply personal and universal narrative, even if the foods mentioned in the play are not.

Julia Cho wrote “Aubergine” in 2016, using her own life as inspiration for the premise. A young chef, named Ray (Tony Nam), struggles to cope with the impending death of his father (Glenn Kubota) and grapples with the memories this loss awakens in him, as well as in those around him.

He finds comfort in the hospice nurse, Lucien (Jefferson A. Russell), who visits their home every day to take care of Ray’s father. He provides a sort of constancy that Ray needs, and his gifted eggplant motivates Ray to turn back to his cooking and find peace.

Ray also turns to his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Cornelia (Eunice Bae), to help him communicate in Korean with his uncle (Song Kim). His uncle travels to America from Korea to be with them in his final days and recalls the day his brother left for America.

Their mother had prepared a modest soup in an effort to stop her son from leaving. It was so powerful, he almost stayed. She saw that he needed to leave, however, and at her insistence, he left.

Each character — including Diane (Megan Anderson), who delivers the opening monologue and then reappears at the end of the play — has a memory intertwining them with someone else over a bowl of ramen or a pastrami sandwich.

These experiences shape them, and when they step forward into the light to share them with the audience, we are meant to recall experiences of our own that have shaped us, too.

The play itself is cut up into memories, switching back and forth between the past and the present until it catches up with itself at the very end, jumping to an idyllic future.

What results is a scrapbook of moments from each character that come together to form several lifetimes from all across the world. Lucien’s story is particularly poignant; he offers only small details of his life, but the little he says speaks volumes. Russell gives him an almost silent vulnerability, affording his spoken words more weight.

In his Everyman Theatre debut, Misha Kachman, also the Artistic Associate of the Olney Center Theater, where “Aubergine” first performed, creates a dynamic three-part set that splits the narrative into three distinct locations: the hospital, the home and the kitchen.

This design takes on even greater significance when Ray buries his father in Korea, represented within the “home” sector. His life has finally come full circle.

“Aubergine” effortlessly combines the power of food, family and memory into a savory two-hour experience. As a part of the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival, the play showcases a diverse cast and an excellent playwright and will leave you wanting more.

“Aubergine” is running through April 15 at the Everyman Theatre. Along with standard student ticket pricing, Everyman is offering a 20 percent discount on tickets with the code FOODIE18.