“Aubergine,” Julia Cho’s lovely theatrical meditation on food and family, goes down easy.
Directed by Tony Taccone, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre world premiere is sweet, savory and a little bit sad, too. At a recent weeknight performance, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during some particularly bittersweet moments toward the show’s end.
But it’s truly touching from the start, with a young woman (Safiya Fredericks) describing her foodie tendencies in a monologue that closes with a funny, moving and saliva-inducing anecdote about the perfect pastrami sandwich.
Then the action moves to a Korean-American man, Ray (Tim Kang) doing his best to deal with his ailing father (Sab Shimono) laid up in a hospital bed, unable to talk, and about to be sent home to die.
At home, the gentle, smart and wise visiting hospice nurse Lucien (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) helps Ray during the difficult time, as do his no-nonsense and thoughtful girlfriend Cornelia (Jennifer Lim) and not long after, his positive, non-English speaking Uncle (Joseph Steven Yang), who shows up from Seoul.
Little by little, Ray’s back story, and how his relationship with his dad influenced his career choice — to become a chef — comes to light.
Though most of its characters are Korean (and some fun dialogue is in Korean with subtitles), “Aubergine” really cooks because its themes — complicated families, the power of food and its connection to memories, the inevitability of death — are so universal.
Cho deals with the issues (particularly gritty details around dying, too often avoided), with grace, humor and elegant simplicity; all of the actors are natural and appealing.
Interestingly, most of the food in the show is described with precision and passion, rather than actually consumed. The exception is the titular eggplant, which, as Cho charmingly writes, tastes much better when it’s in French.
Like its namesake fruit, “Aubergine” is a smooth, deep and rich treat.
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: Tuesdays through Sundays; closes March 20
Tickets: $29 to $89
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org. AubergineBerkeley Repertory TheatreJennifer LimJulia ChoTim KangTony TacconeTyrone Mitchell Henderson