Playwright Julia Cho ('The Language Archive') returns to the Public with the New York premiere of this taut drama about a teacher and student desperate to change the narrative of who they are and how their story ends. More…
Gina was warned that one of her students would be a problem. Eighteen years old and strikingly odd, Dennis writes violently obscene work clearly intended to unsettle those around him. Determined to know whether he’s a real threat, Gina compels Dennis to attend her office hours. But as the clock ticks down, Gina realizes that 'good' versus 'bad' is nothing more than a convenient illusion, and that the isolated young student in her office has learned one thing above all else: that for the powerless, the ability to terrify others is powerful indeed.
“Not only is Julia Cho's ‘Office Hour’ rivetingly acted by Sue Jean Kim and Ki Hong Lee, it is one of the few plays in recent memory to tackle a major social problem and offer an explanation or answer to society's needs. Under Neel Keller's astute direction and the production team's superb physical production, ‘Office Hour’ is both an important play and a compelling event in the theater. You may not agree with Cho's conclusions but you will not be bored for a moment.” Full Review
"More suspenseful than any thriller, but Cho isn't after easy shocks; she wants us to think, long and hard, about why such terrible incidents happen...One of the playwright's smarter decisions is to make Gina of Asian heritage, as well, giving her some insight into him and saving 'Office Hour' from any white-savior narratives...A remarkable duet, performed with unyielding commitment as it builds to a furious emotional pitch." Full Review
"A tense and extremely well thought out play...Both Kim and Lee are excellent. The playwright allows for gradual connections to be made between them...What is so gripping about the play and the production is the ever-present fear of horrific violence that permeates the space, even as sympathy grows for Dennis...Cho effectively calls for compassion and outreach from a society that commonly creates violent loners out of troubled children." Full Review
"I have some quarrel with the way the playwright and director toy with the audience via a series of shocks. But, abetted by a razor-sharp cast, the play is hot stuff...The stakes, both in imagination and in reality, escalate as the play charges forward without intermission, and the whole problem of chilling violence that we see in the daily headlines is conceptually addressed...The playwright, director, and cast confront this head-on with such intensity that one is glued to the stage." Full Review
“An intense and provocative drama...A meditation on gun violence and the perceived power of human connection...Much of ‘Office Hour’ is a two-hander filled with a tension that crackles in the air...Their performances are filled with pain and yearning for human connection...’Office Hour’ makes an interesting case for appealing to a person’s humanity and empathizing...But Cho also shows us that it’s not always easy and straightforward as that." Full Review
“Painfully relevant...’Office Hour’ effectively adds an as yet little explored racial component to the frightening range of dysfunctional people using powerful rifles to vent their frustrations...With both Sue Jean Kim and Ki Hong Lee giving affecting performances...Keller's taut direction, Akerlind's lighting, and Moor's soundscape give Gina's efforts and Dennis's responses a truly scary and dramatically provocative edge that takes it into psychological thriller territory.” Full Review
“’Office Hour,’ directed with simmering tension by Keller, has the power to unnerve and infuriate as it exposes a system that by design makes it seemingly impossible to thwart the next attack...Avoids heavy-handed polemics, focusing instead on character relationships...The performances are uniformly strong, and they transcend archetypes. Kim and Lee effectively negotiate the dangerous pas de deux between the compassionate teacher and agitated student." Full Review
"As 'Office Hour' progresses, there are more resets that progressively build and become even more unsettling to watch and hear...As the gunshots multiply, it becomes a challenge to sit through. You can turn your head and try not to look, but the sound is all around you. And that’s the point...Cho is saying we all have a responsibility to look and even more, do our part to prevent these attacks from happening. Just how we're to do that, she doesn't say." Full Review
“Performed by a most excellent cast...One of the problems with the structure is that a greater sense of Dennis’s disturbance is hard to pin down or deepen. The ideas about power, silence, and the act of making oneself unlikeable are thought-provoking, and definitely keep us sitting on the edge of our seats, but what does it truly add up to in the end? They feel like fragmented concepts rather than a portrait...As a piece of theatre, we hope for a deeper understanding.” Full Review
"Cho has written a relevant commentary on the new violence erupting in schools and colleges nationwide...These episodes contain lots of silence, more than pregnant pauses, that are off-putting and distracting which, in fact, director Neel Keller obviously didn’t count on...There is a predictability as the story moves along and also some surprises...A reminder of the on-going violence that plagues our society on a daily basis and the cost." Full Review
"Do we require this to make us sensitive to the mass shootings that are so prevalent today?...'Office Hour' isn’t opening our wound for examination so it can heal, but instead, creating a thicker, tougher callus. Is that necessary?...The performances are all solid...Neel Keller’s delicate direction allows his actors the space to bring these characters and their stories to life." Full Review
“Disappointingly, ‘Office Hour’ begins to resemble a therapy session...Everyone onstage has a good cry and we tear up a bit from sheer boredom. It feels like an easy way out...We are briefly jolted to attention by a sequence of rapid-fire scenes imagining all the horrible ways a shooting could happen...Then something incredible happens: We get used to it...Whether by design or not, our reaction to what should be a traumatizing scene is the most disturbing revelation of the play." Full Review
"Sue Jean Kim gives a remarkably controlled performance...Cho is a confident writer, Gina is a gutsy character and Kim is a self-possessed performer...Cho’s smart, civilized dialogue occasionally seems tone deaf. Unless director Neel Keller is deliberately playing against the written text and reaching for the subtext." Full Review
“The dialogue too often feels contrived and artificial, designed to make sociological points rather than convey three-dimensional characters...The playwright indulges too often in the sort of narrative fake-outs that are certainly shocking but eventually prove wearisome in their repetitiveness. ‘Office Hour’ is most incisive in its quieter, subtler moments...May not tell us anything we don't already know...But it certainly makes you feel like you've been in the presence of one.” Full Review
“If you remove from the story the threat of violence and its fulfillment, there’s very little story left...Cho tries to finesse this structural problem by introducing a meta-theatrical game of three-card monte...It’s hard to pay attention either way, because so many of the vignettes end in varieties of violence..Technically, the production is extremely skillful — you might even say cunning — at producing that response...But the question remains: effective to what end?” Full Review
"Basically a set of variations on gun violence for no good reason that I could find...The bulk of the play consists of Dennis’s visit to Gina’s office hour, seen it several versions, all of which end badly, with an escalating level of violence. If the playwright’s intention was to show how easily we become desensitized to repetitive violence, she did succeed at that. Unfortunately I thought the main effect of the play was to trivialize an important topic. The actors are fine." Full Review
“For all its focus on gunfire, it doesn’t really deal with school shootings and what makes someone a shooter. It’s more concerned with emotional comprehension and issues of creative expression...The net effect is a play in which two sets of concerns keep displacing each other...It says something for Keller’s production that it’s able to hew to a straight line artistically in the face of all the script’s divagations, and even greater praise goes to Sue Jean Kim." Full Review
“Has moments that feel vital, honest, and valuable. It’s also built around a scenario that I find deeply questionable, perhaps even irresponsible...At its most effective moments, 'Office Hour' is interested not only in the question of gun violence, but in the painful, isolating struggle faced by the children of immigrant parents in this country...The climax overwhelms the rest of the play to a destructive degree. It feels like a cruel trick on an audience who came willing to listen." Full Review
"Sue Jean Kim delivers a strong portrayal – one that is focused, and truthful...Cho’s cynicism appears to be aimed at the tyranny of political correctness...As directed by Neel Keller, scenes of imagined killing and suicide, merge with the banality of everyday conversation. Tense scenes are repeated, so that we see the potential for different outcomes. The reality feels miserable enough, but the fantasies are lurid, and deathly!" Full Review
“If we already know that what we're seeing is going to be subverted by the suggestion that its outcome is only potential, not actual, then the shock dissipates…Cho's writing is sharp enough to keep us listening and watching despite the play's trickiness but, even without the rewind stratagem, both Dennis and Gina become increasingly hard to accept as real people… Mass shootings will continue…whether we pay close attention or not. 'Office Hour' does little to advance the conversation.” Full Review
"Couldn’t be more timely...Cho seems more interested in a conventional teacher-with-a-savior-complex melodrama than a serious exploration of the larger issue, and that’s where 'Office Hour' comes up short...Unfortunately, even as played by the very game Kim, Gina is, to put it kindly, a flibbertigibbet with boundary issues who could probably drive Bambi to violence. The inevitable Armageddon seems both tasteless and dramatically unearned." Full Review
“Dramatic license should be revoked in Julia Cho’s new trolling-for-victims drama...Kim practically sweats maternal concern, making David Mamet’s professor in 'Oleanna' look like a model of propriety. Switch the sexes of Gina and Dennis and Cho would have a real debate on her hands...Neel Keller directs some extraordinary scenes of imaginary violence that build to one extended fantasy sequence, which falls flat." Full Review
“Cho doesn’t seem to be seriously exploring a terrifying national trend so much as capitalizing on it. She undermines her evident interest in alienation and connection, by creating interaction that too often doesn’t ring true...Had the play not been opening just a few days after yet another record-breaking mass shooting, it would be easier to appreciate Cho’s structurally inventive experiments, or the ethereal moments created by the design team.” Full Review
“'Office Hour' is physically difficult to sit through. Part of that reaction is a judgment on its quality...But you may also be experiencing something like a literal fight-or-flight response...Cho’s 'All in the Timing'–style conceit spirals into absurdity, and the audience laughs uncertainly...If this horror were in the service of penetrating insights about school shootings, it might be valuable, even necessary. But ’Office Hour’ doesn’t earn its ending; it has nothing to teach." Full Review
"The deepest fears of these characters are physicalized and then wiped clean over and over, and then it happens to the audience. It’s bone-chilling, and, I guess, effective if that’s what it’s supposed to do. It’s also in very bad taste...The play is muddied from the start of the office hour...Dennis leaves the room unchanged...If nothing is different, why does this play exist? The only answer I can land on is the shock value of Cho’s refractions." Full Review
See it if you enjoy art that moves and shocks and makes you look at the big issues facing our world today.
Don't see it if you can't handle intense drama, violence, or material that tackles uncomfortable issues
See it if You want to be challenged in how you understand the intersection of race, ethnicity and mental health. America needs this play.
Don't see it if You’re seeking a light night of theater to turn off your brain, that doesn’t involve deep and critical thinking
See it if You'd want to watch one teacher try to get through to a troubled student and all the things she really tries. 90 minutes flies by.
Don't see it if You don't have earplugs, as there is a particularly loud moment (that goes on for a while) towards the end.
See it if You would like a stimulating experience ripped from today’s headlines. This play will disturb you and have you discussing it with friends.
Don't see it if It hits too close to home as the subject matter involves potential violence.
See it if you want to see a thought-provoking play about identity and race and family and being seen. Clever staging, too.
Don't see it if you are scared by loud noises or want a light evening out. This is an EXTREMELY intense performance.
See it if Exploration of a potential school shooter that plays with our perceptions, stereotypes and fears to explore how we can find understanding
Don't see it if you're looking for a light comedy or don't like plays which remain ambiguous. What-if scenarios & unanswered questions, but that's the point
See it if You enjoy highly relevant, topical thrillers, especially those that toy with both the audience’s and the characters’ perceptions of reality.
Don't see it if You can’t stand edge-of-your-seat, intense plays where you’re constantly waiting for a gun to go off.
See it if you want to see a play that brings up the very important topic of gun violence and teenage angst.
Don't see it if you want to see a play that gives answers to the important topics it brings up.
See it if You have an interest in an examination of the the struggles of growing up as an outsider, and not fitting in.
Don't see it if You do not care for sitting on the edge of your seat, or considering issues which never troubled you growing up.
See it if for an intense play focusing on issues needing thought-like well done plays that leave you open to after thought & discussion
Don't see it if Opposed to loud gun shots. Don't like gripping theater. Don't like a play that's not neat & tidy.Expect a fun light show.
See it if You are interested in the role of teachers as moral coaches for teenage students. Are they trained professionals?
Don't see it if You are not interested in the current problem of student safety in schools. You shock easily.
See it if Superb acting by the two principals + playwright skilled at slow escalation of intensity + masterful staging and sound design = WINNER
Don't see it if you want fun! or are in any way triggered by the sound of gunfire -- this play is about the gun wars and has intense use of live blanks
See it if moving, urgent exploration of our paranoia-fueled minds struggling with our better angels.
Don't see it if you just need peace, without reminders of gun-violence
See it if You are prepared for multiple moments of simulated violence and dialogue that paints cringe inducing images
Don't see it if You want a tidy narrative. This does not offer any easy analysis or answers.
See it if you seek a tense, eloquent, well-acted take on the timely topic of school shooting that also explores compassion, loneliness & misjudgment.
Don't see it if you expect any concrete conclusions to a complex topic. [The show asks more questions than it answers.]; you're uncomfortable with violence.
See it if Meditation & exploration of gun violence,isolation,mental illness inspired by Va Tech shootings but dreamlike & oddly lacking verisimilitude
Don't see it if You can’t take gunshots scenes depicting mass shootings on campus or how easily we become insensitized to violence
See it if theater about our current political-social world (gun control, mental illness) interests you.
Don't see it if you can't deal with guns/gunfire or you want to see a comedy.
See it if You want an in your face take on gun violence in America. You like non-linear storytelling and open ended discussions.
Don't see it if You're looking for more concrete answers and clearer storytelling. You've seen/read a lot on gun violence and want something more original.
See it if you want to watch something that is touching on the current climate of gun control and mental illness
Don't see it if if you can get triggered by loud noises and simulations of gun sounds
See it if you want a thoughtful exploration of gun violence among disaffected students who feel isolated by society; strong acting/writing
Don't see it if , like the Times reviewer, gunshots are a "trigger" for you; there are a number of blanks fired. Note the play is dark but not frightening
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