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REVIEW: “COLEMAN ‘72” by CHARLIE OH — South Coast Repertory

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

COSTA MESA — APR 30, 2023

“Coleman ’72” by Charlie Oh takes you on a spontaneous family road trip in the summer of 1972 when three Korean American siblings (Jenn, Michelle and Joey) pile into the family Buick for an All-American getaway—precipitously orchestrated by their father.

From Milwaukee to Los Angeles and back again, they hit the open plains, stocked with kimchi, banchan and lemon drops, and a rickety Coleman camper in tow. But Korean parents and American kids usually have a wide generational divide and hold conflicting ideas of what they’re looking for. Soon, the real purpose of their journey comes to light.

It is Oh’s first production at South Coast Repertory. A recent graduate of The Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, Oh started writing “Coleman ’72” sitting in his parents’ basement in Chicago during the depths of the pandemic. He said it gave him a chance to call aunts, grandparents, cousins and other relatives and listen to their stories.

“This is a story about what it means to be American, what it means to grapple with family that you love, but who also may have hurt you. How do you reconcile the really messy things about your family?... How do you come to your senses about your family history?” Oh said.

And the talented cast embarking on this journey onstage is a mix of SCR veterans and newcomers, as South Coast Repertory Artistic Director David Ivers and Managing Director Paula Tomei present the world premiere production, directed by Chay Yew, which runs April 23-May 14 on the Julianne Argyros Stage, wrapping up the 25th Pacific Playwrights Festival.

“I’m beyond excited to share the world premiere of Charlie Oh’s beautiful and complex story about his Korean American family. Charlie is an exceptional writer, a terrific human and we are honored to support his work with this production,” Ivers said.

Oh’s work has been developed at Manhattan Theatre Club, The Lark, Second Stage, Goodman Theatre, the BMI Lehmen Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, NYC Songspace, the American Musical Theater Project, The Brooklyn Generator and Catwalk Writer’s Residency. His play, “Long,” won the Kennedy Center’s Paula Vogel Award in Playwriting, placed second for the Mark Twain Prize for Comedic Playwriting and was a 2019 Honorable Mention selection for the American Playwriting Foundation’s Relentless Award.

Now, “Coleman ’72” has received the Kennedy Center’s Paul Stephen Lim Playwriting Award. One of the most accomplished theatre directors in the country, Chay Yew returns to SCR to direct “Coleman ‘72” eight years after helming the critically acclaimed “Cambodian Rock Band.” Yew directed “Cambodian Rock Band” off-Broadway (Signature Theatre), just one of a total of 11 New York credits on his resume.

Winner of the 2007 Obie Award for his direction of “Durango” by Julia Cho, Yew’s regional directing credits also include productions at most of America’s major regional theatres, including Goodman Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Alley Theatre, Huntington Theatre, Kennedy Center, Alley Theatre, Center Theatre Group and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, among others.

Coleman ’72 features Paul Juhn (James), Jessica Ko (Michelle), Jully Lee (Annie), Tess Lina (Jenn) and Ryun Yu (Joey). Paul Juhn makes his SCR debut as the family patriarch, James. His credits include “Good Person of Szechwan” (Public Theater), “The Great Wave” (Berkeley Repertory), “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,” “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “The Winter’s Tale,” “Antony and Cleopatra” (all at Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (La Jolla Playhouse) among others. His television credits include “The Blacklist,” “Law & Order,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “30 Rock,” “Quantico” and “Person of Interest.”

Jessica Ko makes her SCR debut as the family’s middle child, Michelle. She spent four seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she first worked with Yew in the world premiere of “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” originating the role of Shapeshifter. Her other OSF credits include Dou Yi in the U.S. premiere of “Snow in Midsummer,” Rosalind in “As You Like It” and Princess Katherine/Boy/Montjoy in “Henry V.” Ko has appeared at regional theatres all over the country, including Berkshire Theatre Group, Cleveland Play House, Chautauqua Theatre Company, Trinity Repertory Company and Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Along with acting, Ko is a talented playwright. Her play was presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre last September as part of Center Theatre Group’s 2021-22 Writer’s Workshop and is currently a semifinalist for the 2023 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.

An Ovation-nominated actor, Jully Lee makes her third appearance on SCR’s stages as Annie, the family matriarch, following her role as Carnelia in “Aubergine” (2019) and Ama Mituki in “tokyo fish story” (2015). Lee made her Broadway debut as Ruby in “KPOP the Musical.” Her other theatre credits include “The Joy Luck Club” (national tour), “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” (Fountain Theatre/East West Players), “Ladies and Colony Collapse” (Boston Court Pasadena), “36 Views” (PCPA) and “Mexican Day” (Rogue Machine), among others. Lee’s numerous television credits including recurring roles on “Young Sheldon,” “The Kicks,” and “Gang Related,” along with guest appearance on “S.W.A.T.,” “This Is Us,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Veep,” “Rosewood,” “Henry Danger,” and “The Kominsky Method.”

Tess Lina makes her SCR debut as the oldest child, Jenn. Most recently, Lina played in the L.A. Theatre Works national tour of “Seven.” Her credits include stops at major regional theatres across the country, including Mark Taper Forum, Guthrie Theater, Indiana Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse, Laguna Playhouse and at Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where she appeared in “Tantalus” as part of a co-production with Royal Shakespeare Company. Lina’s television credits include “CSI,” “NCIS,” “House,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “S.W.A.T.,” and the upcoming “For All Mankind.”

Ryun Yu returns to SCR as the youngest child, Joey, after his hilarious portrayal of four characters (Tzi Chuan/Melvin/Dad/General Tso) in last spring’s production of “Tiger Style!” by Mike Lew. Before that, Yu last appeared at SCR in 2015 as Takeshi in “tokyo fish story,” a role he originated.

He also originated the role of Gordon Hirabayashi in “Hold These Truths” at East West Players, Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., Pasadena Playhouse and San Diego Rep, where he won a Craig Noel Award for best solo performance. Yu’s television credits include the recurring character of Pastor Daniel Kwon on the FX show “Baskets”, as Larry on “Fuller House”, and as DHH in David Henry Hwang’s “Yellowface,” the first adaptation of a major play for YouTube.

The design and creative team include Daniel Ostling, set design; Sarah Ryung Clement, costume design; Pablo Santiago, lighting design; John Zalewski, sound design; Stephan Mazurek, projections design; Andy Knight, dramaturg; Yong Kim, Korean language coach, and Joanne DeNaut, CSA, casting director. Maisie Chan is the production manager, Darlene Miyakawa is the production stage manager, and Lauren Buangan is the assistant stage manager.

WITH: Paul Juhn, Jessica Ko, Jully Lee, Tess Lina and Ryun Yu.

Regular remaining performances of “Coleman ‘72” are May 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13 at 7:45 PM, and May 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 2 PM. Tickets are now on sale and range in price from $27 to $98, with additional discounts available for educators, seniors and theatregoers ages 25 and under. Running time: Approximately 100 minutes with no intermission.

Coleman ’72 received generous support from The Playwrights Circle, which includes Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, Julie and Robert F. Daley and David Emmes and Paula Tomei. South Coast Repertory is located at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, at the Bristol Street/Avenue of the Arts exit off the San Diego (405) Freeway in the David Emmes/Martin Benson Theatre Center, part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Parking is available on Park Center Drive, off Anton Boulevard. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at (714) 708-5555.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

Photo Credits: Jenny Graham/SCR


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