Written by 12:28 am Costa Mesa, Review, South Coast Repertory, Theater, Uncategorized

Coleman ’72 @ South Coast Repertory – Review

Photo Credit: Jenny Graham

Written by Patrick Chavis

The experience of going out and exploring America on a road trip has been a staple in stories, plays, and movies.  Some are serious stories like On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and others are comedies like the early 80s film Vacation with Chevy Chase. In Coleman ’72, now playing at South Coast Repertory, we are introduced to a complex memory play about a Korean American family battling their past and future.

As mentioned before, Coleman ’72 follows a Korean American family’s journey from the perspective of the kids’ memories of the trip long ago. As the story unfolds, the kids, now older, realize how differently each of them remembers the events of the past, and we gain more insight into what really happened on the road trip so long ago.


This play’s message about memory and our understanding of the past was communicated very well in this production. The father’s character and the mystery about the father was my favorite part of the show. The performance from the father, James, played by Paul Juhn, was captivating, to say the least. However, this story wasn’t only about James. It is a family drama about the family and their experience, which often plays second fiddle to the father’s character in this play.

It’s a road trip play.  In a lot of ways, it does feel like a road trip, especially the banter from the kids.  Casting adults in the kid roles added comedy, and also it works as a narrative device to let us know who is telling the story and from what perspective. Having adults playing immature kids is funny in doses but felt tedious and unfunny after a while. Besides the bickering and mildly entertaining banter, the father’s secrets, and the reveal later in the script, there’s minimal action or effective comedy to keep this car on the road.

I see the merit in this play and the message, but I think the story would have probably been communicated better in novel form, where you can really break down these characters’ state of mind. The arguing and complaining are only so interesting, and the subtle visual connections between the younger and older versions of the character made it hard to connect the two when the metaphorical curtain drops at the end of the show.

South Coast Repertory presents the world premiere of “Coleman ’72” by Charlie Oh, directed by Chay Yew. Cast: Paul Juhn (James), Jessica Ko (Michelle), Jully Lee (Annie), Tess Lina (Jenn) and Ryun You (Joey). Julianne Argyros Stage, April 23 – May 14, 2023


The set is composed of three giant slanted wooden platforms and, in the background, a type of video screen that allows projections. The background screen changed with different artistic backgrounds. All of the backgrounds had a very unique and artistic look to them. When using projections, knowing how to use projection and, more importantly, how to light it can be the difference between something that looks more professional or thrown together. The lighting design by Pablo Santiago made the stage look professional. Santiago’s lighting is a literal guiding light for actors on stage.


These are all talented actors on the stage, undeniable.   But after leaving the theatre and thinking about the show, the father’s performance was one of the only ones that really stood out, followed closely by the mother, Annie, played by Jully Lee. Lee was able to bridge the gap between the younger and older versions of the character.

Ryun Yu’s Will Ferrell-like mannerisms brought some much-needed comedy to the performance.

Final Thought:

Coleman ’72 is a deep and worthwhile journey through a time and perspective not often shown in plays and television, but like the road, getting through it can be a little bumpy.

7.7 Overall
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Above Average! April 29 – May 14, 2023

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