Review: NOMAD MOTEL at Unicorn Theatre Review: NOMAD MOTEL at Unicorn Theatre
If strength is gained through tough experiences, then Alix, Mason, and the rest of the characters of NOMAD MOTEL can take on the world. Review: NOMAD MOTEL at Unicorn Theatre

Pictured: Annie Schwaner and Eric Palmquist. Photo by Cynthia Levin.

By Malcolm Gibbs

Is strength of character, and the urge to keep fighting, something that is taught to you, or is it an instinct some are born with and some aren’t? Those that are strong of character are those that give and help others, even when they have very little to give. If strength is gained through tough experiences, then Alix, Mason, and the rest of the characters of NOMAD MOTEL can take on the world.

The Unicorn Theatre delves into the lives of “Motel Kids” and “Parachute Kids” in Carla Ching’s NOMAD MOTEL, taking a split look at the unseen homelessness that is often not considered. Alix (Annie Schwaner) is a high school senior moving from motel to motel searching for a permanent home. On the other side of the issue is Mason (Eric Palmquist), another student in Alix’s senior class who was sent to live in America while his father stays in Hong Kong to work. Detailing the struggles these kids go through trying to make it virtually on their own, Ching aptly brings these two stories to the forefront and creates an incredibly engaging look at homelessness and hope.

The play is involved in a “Rolling World Premiere” sponsored by the National New Play Network, in which new plays receive several premiere productions in a relatively small same time period. In addition to Kansas City, NOMAD MOTEL opened at City Theatre in Pennsylvania and Horizon Theatre in Georgia.

Standing out from the minute you enter the Jerome stage at The Unicorn Theatre are the abstract projections co-designed by Emily Swenson and Greg Mackender. In addition to eye-popping visual art, the projections provide a unique story-telling experience using the polygonal screens to project video calls between Mason and his father, James (Walter Coppage).

The play opens with Mason performing a live-looping musical composition on stage. The musical pieces themselves were enthralling, and left me, as an audience member wanting more of those music making moments. Greg Mackender and Zack Pierson (serving as the Music Coordinator and Sound Designer respectively) created an important part in the telling of this story.

As Mason, Palmquist portrays the true emotions experienced when making music. His Mason is filled with depth, showing both his youth and inexperience, but also, how his experiences have made him wise beyond his years. Schwaner handles the fighting spirit of Alix showing a deep connection to all the people in her life, brilliantly portraying the complications of having a parent and brothers around while dealing with the problems caused by homelessness.

Carla Ching’s NOMAD MOTEL is as important today as it will be for years to come unless we begin to do more, and expect more from each other as human beings. If anything, NOMAD MOTEL makes you acutely aware of the fact that everyone around you is fighting a battle that is bigger than you imagine.

NOMAD MOTEL runs through February 17th. For more information visit

Malcolm Gibbs

"Malcolm Gibbs is a current senior at UMKC, with a double major in Theatre Performance and Creative Writing, he plans to graduate in the Spring. He has been a Kansas City for almost his entire life. He is a playwright, actor, and competitive video game player. In his off time, he volunteers with the UMKC student-lead University Theatre Association which produces theatre for alumni, faculty, staff, and non-theatre majors.”

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