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NO FOREIGNERS BEYOND THIS POINT Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St.; (212) 352-3101. Through Oct. 16.
THIS new play by Warren Leight ("Side Man") demonstrates the pitfalls of creating dramatic works based on personal experience.
Inspired by the playwright's time spent teaching English in China shortly after the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, "No Foreigners Beyond This Point" reveals an impressive authenticity and depth of knowledge about its subject matter. But it also lacks a compelling dramatic arc, and its attenuated series of vignettes never satisfyingly coalesce.
Presented by the Ma-Yi Theater Company, the play details the adventures of Ean (Andrew Baker) and Abby (Paula Wheaton), two young, inexperienced innocents who show up in Guangdong, China, to teach at a trade school.
While Abby has idealistic notions about her pursuit and Ean, well, wants to be with Abby, they both quickly discover that their plans for cross-cultural communication have to be drastically curtailed.
Aghast at the constraints placed upon both them and the students by the rigidly controlling faculty, the pair gradually find themselves educated as to the true nature of their surroundings.
While some of these revelations border on the trivial - Ean is outraged to discover that his students have never heard of The Beatles - others are far more serious, as students and colleagues describe the brutally repressive conditions they've long had to endure.
While many of these encounters resonate in a quietly powerful fashion, the play ultimately feels more educational than dramatic. How little we care about the central characters is illustrated in a coda depicting their reunion many years later, which has none of the intended poignancy.
Under the sensitive direction of Loy Arcenas, the largely Asian-American cast deliver sterling performances as a variety of students, faculty members and government officials. Still, it's hard to avoid the feeling that the material would have been far better served by a memoir than by this awkward dramatization.
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