It’s a great premise, with the potential to address racial discrimination and the immigrant experience with incisiveness and humor: two first-generation Cambodian-American siblings living in Long Beach learn about their mother’s flight from the Khmer Rouge from their childhood friend, now a gang member, whose history with the sister threatens to undermine her new relationship with her whitewashed, Orange County-born Chinese-American boyfriend. Sadly, there’s little good to be said about “Year Zero,” the first of two plays presented as Victory Gardens’ first “Ignition Festival,” devoted to emerging playwrights of color. At best, the production’s consistent stiffness and sluggish pace drains what should have been the play’s moments of highest drama. At worst, the writing itself feels like a public-service-announcement disguised as art. Not only is the plot formulaic, with a love triangle, coming-of-age story and a good man gone bad (at one point, the gang member actually says, and this is a quote: “There’s something I’ve gotta do, and after that this won’t be my home anymore”); but the script is littered with so much information about Cambodian culture, the stereotypes and hierarchies that different Asian immigrants hold, and SoCal culture (“Oh, Roscoe’s? That famous chicken and waffle place?”) that it’s more of a lecture-based pedagogical experience than a theatrical one. (Monica Westin)
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, (773)871-3000, through October 18.