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Review: Ethan Kim swells both tears and laughs in one-man-show

UNC senior Ethan Kim rehearses his one man show based on his life on Friday, Mar. 22 in Swain Hall.

The room is dead silent.

Not even the faintest breath can be heard from the audience. A tear falls down the face of the girl sitting across the room from me. She dares not to risk the noise of moving her hand to wipe it away.

After what feels like an eternity has passed, Ethan Kim breaks the silence with a well-timed joke, and everyone takes a breath of relief.

Ethan Kim’s one-man show, “The Dishwasher: soap, sponge, scrub,” has the power to swell both tears and laughter often in the span of just a few minutes. The show, which runs for about an hour and twenty minutes and boasts a 37-page script, is performed solely by Kim, along with help from his great lighting and music engineers. 

When I was told about the performance, I was a bit skeptical — the idea of a one-man show sounded risky to me. Controlling an audience for over an hour is no easy feat, especially when you’re switching between comedy and drama so suddenly.

I was prepared to have some critiques, but I honestly have nothing negative to say about the performance.

Near the start of the show, Kim explains a stereotype in which Asian-American parents will handwash dishes instead of using the dishwasher to save some money on the water bill.

Throughout the show, the audience learns more and more about the “dishwasher,” through various stories. Kim connects the metaphor to his family’s origin and struggles, his Asian-American heritage and his own personal life. 

Another concept that stood out was the recurring theme of red. Kim brings up Asian flush while telling a lighthearted story about his experience with alcohol.

Throughout the rest of the show, the Asian flush, which Kim refers to as the “red,” is used to symbolize alcoholism. He tells stories about his family’s experience dealing with substance abuse and how it affected his personal life.

These stories are told with the use of dramatic stage lighting and met with absolute, dead silence.

Kim often breaks into slam poetry monologues that mesmerize the audience and bring all attention to his words — and they were really great words.

In these monologues, Kim would tell a story about his grandmother’s struggle adjusting in America, or his mother’s experience growing up around alcoholism.

It was not until one of his final monologues, however, that I found myself tearing up. 

An altered version of "Mia & Sebastian’s Theme" from "La La Land" began to play, which the audience would later find out was actually composed by Kim’s younger brother Jacob.

Kim references the plot of "La La Land" and draws connections between his family’s struggles being foreigners in America and his own struggles through romance. His voice cracks as he delivers his words with power and captivation. I feel as if I’ve known Kim and his family my entire life. 

As he continues his monologue, the composition subtly transitions to the theme of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" as Kim implores about his dreams of true love. For those of you who are not familiar, "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is a surrealist drama that, at its core, revolves around an Asian-American family that struggles with family dynamics and finding joy in life. 

The speech, along with the majority of the show, is strikingly personal and vulnerable, and it is really unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Kim, who is known for his stand-up comedy, will go on comedic tangents throughout the show. One that stood out to me was about having to take bites of a meal made for you, even if it's terrible. Then, he’ll circle back and use his joke as a metaphor — like explaining how true love means taking bigger bites, even if the food sucks. 

The ability to make clever jokes and then use them throughout the script in profound ways shows how impressive Kim’s writing skills are. 

The dedication to his enunciation and rhythm is equally impressive. Imagine having to memorize 37 pages of deeply personal stories and then perform them, all the while switching between comedy and heavy dramaticism.

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Throughout the show I kept thinking his rap-like, slam-poetry-esque delivery combined with his script-writing and stand-up skills begs to make the comparison to Donald Glover, who is renowned for all of the above.

Having all of these traits is one thing, but being able to capitalize on them all in one performance is what makes Ethan Kim such a joy to watch perform.

I can only hope that Kim is able to use these talents further on larger projects in the future. I do not know what his plans are for future endeavors, but if you ever get the chance, go see this man perform. 

You can stay updated on Kim’s work via @kurvykorean on Instagram.