by John Glore
But there isn’t much compassion on display in the play’s first scene, when Gina meets with two fellow adjunct creative writing teachers to discuss a student who has set off alarm bells with his hostile classroom demeanor and the violence and perversity in his writing. Gina, who has just begun a new class with this student, is uncertain about how seriously to take his strange behavior. But David and Genevieve have come to a stark conclusion: “the kid” is Trouble, and they’re afraid if someone doesn’t do something soon, he could go off like a time bomb. (They won’t even say his name, perhaps not wanting to humanize the threat they have discovered in their midst.) And from the way they describe him, their fears seem justified.
Then the other shoe drops. Having no apparent way to deal with the potential problem through official channels because of various bureaucratic roadblocks, David and Genevieve have concluded that Gina is the only one who might be able to get through to the troubled student and thereby defuse the time bomb. Genevieve reasons that because Gina shares the student’s cultural background, “you guys must have stuff in common.”
However presumptuous Genevieve’s assessment might be, Gina does have to find a way to deal with the problem that has been dumped in her lap. Although she never set out to be a teacher—it became necessary when success as a writer proved elusive—she still takes her teaching seriously and she believes she has an ability to connect with her students. And then there’s that feeling of compassion she can’t seem to shake. So she reluctantly summons the troubled student to a meeting.
The rest of the play covers what happens when he shows up for Gina’s office hour, and nothing can prepare Gina for what she learns about her student—or about herself—as she begins to crack through his shell of hostility.
Although its mode is realistic, the structure of Office Hour is not entirely conventional. Rather than following a linear progression from the beginning of Gina’s meeting with her student to the end, the play fractures at key moments in a way that can’t be explained without giving too much away. But the fracturing becomes key to the experience of the play and, more importantly, it allows the play to honor the complexity of its subject matter.
Office Hour deals with the potential for sudden, shocking violence in a society where too many people—particularly a certain breed of young men—feel alienated, powerless, persecuted and misunderstood, and respond by lashing out. It’s a perplexing, almost unexplainable phenomenon, and the societal fissures it causes seem to spread uncontrollably, like cracks in a thin sheet of ice, one crack leading to another and then another. That’s why Cho has chosen as much as possible to let the story control its own telling.
The result is a suspenseful, thought-provoking drama, whose outcome remains in doubt even as Gina’s final words reverberate in our minds: “Figure it out.”
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