Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2016’
You Can’t Go Home Again
“Vietgone” is a raucous reflection by Qui Nyuyen on the Vietnamese experience surrounding the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the adjustment to life in refugee camps in the United States. It is both highly entertaining and complex, offering new perspectives on this troubled era of American and Vietnamese history. The central character is Quang, a helicoptor pilot in the South Viet Nam Air Force who flies many to safety aboard the aircraft carrier Midway in the desperate escape from Saigon, but who lacks the opportunity to return to gather his wife and two young children.
At Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, refugee camp, the hunky Quang meets Tong, a fiercely independent young woman with great aspirations and no need for attachments. They have a conflicted relationship as he is drawn to her but can’t give up the hope of reuniting with his family in the motherland. He even sets out on a foolish motorcycle journey to California with a friend in the hope of catching a flight to Guam that would ultimately lead him back home.
The play’s music track of rock and roll from the era create nostalgia and a great feel for the era. In addition to the dominant threads of humor and interpersonal conflict, the play has many moments of pathos. Interestingly, the narratives of these situations are often revealed in original rap music and lyrics delivered by the players, not as polished performances but as real people showing real emotions in flawed voices.
The two leads excel in their characterizations. Tong is written with more limited range, but Jeena Yi is vibrant as the high strung, animated young woman set on succeeding in life in America. James Ryen as the implacable Quang shows his versatility in both a stoner scene and as an old man reflecting on earlier life. His views on the Viet Nam War are particularly sensitive and telling. Three other actors play multiple characters, but Amy Kim Waschke, whose main role is as Tong’s mother, is especially notable. She, like her daughter, is feisty but reveals dimensions and frailties in softer moments.
The thrust stage is without permanent fixtures, but occasional trap door delivered scenery works well, and props such as motorcycles add life to the staging. Projections on upper walls of three sides of the theatre add detail that captures the moments. Altogether, director May Adrales has matched Qui Nyuyen’s script with staging that makes for a moving, memorable, and entertaining event.
Playwright Qui Nguyen received the 2015 American Theatre Critics Association’s Steinberg Award for “Vietgone.” The recognition is for the Best Script Produced Outside New York City in 2014.
“Vietgone” plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Thomas Theatre, Ashland, OR, through October 29. OSF is a premier theater company, founded in 1935. Operating three theaters totaling over 2,100 seats, overall attendance in 2015 exceeded 390,000, representing 87% of capacity. Among its awards, OSF has received the coveted Tony in 1983 for outstanding achievement in regional theater and in 2014 for best play for its commission “All the Way.”