Off Broadway Reviews
The Fruiting Bodies in the title of Sam Chanse's play refer to two different species: the variety of mushrooms in the North California woods where it's set, and the human beings in different stages of growth who are trying to find them. Despite its whimsical setting, the play (which runs through May 19 at Theatre Row) offers familiar comforts, presented in a fresh way through the eyes of a Japanese-American family dealing with the aftermath of the mother who left them, the son who became estranged, and the father slowly losing his memory.
We first meet the father, Ben (Thom Sesma), an idiosyncratic mushroom hunter who spends more time looking at the ground than he does looking into the eyes of the people around him. Ben is so immersed in his latest hunt that he's completely forgotten his daughters Vicky (Emma Kikue) and Mush (Kimiye Corwin) are also joining him. Therefore, when they arrive in the forest, they realize they must first hunt down their technology-averse father before they can search for mushrooms with him.
As his daughters argue and set off to find him, Ben is waxing poetic about the traits of mushrooms to a young man named Boy (Jeffrey Omura) who takes on the form of whoever the beholder needs to see. Ben sees his son, who went from being his favorite to becoming estranged after he rejected him for being gay. Ben is of an older generation, and the play suggests he voted Republican in the 2016 election, leading his son, who we never see, to ask him how could he vote for someone who didn't want him to exist, to which Ben replies "it's just politics."
Ben belongs to a time that's slowly becoming more restricted to his memories. When his daughters finally find him, with the help of the impish Boy, he has a hard time seeing them as who they are now. Sesma gives a beautiful performance as the kind of man who would be reduced to black or white views online. Kikue and Corwin are splendid as his daughters, although neither of their characters gets the chance to become more than supporting players, exclusively there to provide comic relief and context.
At the center of Fruiting Bodies there is a very traditional living room drama, complete with a couch made out of rocks (the set design by Reid Thompson is a wonder) and explosive arguments during dinner. The play also borrows from Shakespeare, besides the obvious hints of A Midsummer's Night Dream there is plenty of King Lear served by Ben's inadequacy as a patriarch, but also his chauvinism in refusing to split his "kingdom" between the daughters and gay son who failed to fulfill his dreams of perfection.