Kedar K. Adour

Performing Arts Reviews

Vietgone is Theatricality with a capital T.

Huong (Cindy Im, left) walks in on Quang (James Seol, center) and her daughter, Tong (Jenelle Chu), bedded down in A.C.T.’s “Vietgone.” Photo by Kevin Berne.

VIETGONE: Comedy by Qui Nguyen. Directed by Jaime Castañeda. American Consevatory Theatre (A.C.T.) Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., San Francisco. 415.749.2228 or   February 21–April 22, 2018.

Vietgone is Theatricality with a capital T. Rating: ★★★★★

Not only is Vietgone Theatricality with a capital T it is meta-theatrical with author Qui Nguyen writing himself into the script. In fact he opens the show with Jomar Tagatac playing the author reminding us to turn off our cell phones and unwrap our candies etc. before introducing his characters and stepping back to take on other roles.  Even though there is more than a touch of autobiography, he insists that the story is populated with “completely made-up” persons. The non-chronological format is easy to follow since the creative crew flash video graphics telling the dates and location that are especially helpful when the two intrepid Vietnamese refugees are taking a trip from Fort Chafee, Arkansas to the West Coast.

The two intrepid motor bike riders are strong willed Quang (James Seol) and naïve Nhan (Stephen Hu). They are refugees assigned to the relocation center in Fort Chaffee. The first flash-back is four months earlier in Saigon where the back stories are woven into the play while the Vietcong are making their final push. We meet Tong (Jenelle Chu) who is being persistently wooed by Giai (Tagatac). When Saigon is overrun heart wrenching decisions must be made as to who goes and who stays. Memories of the TV News broadcasting that chaos will come to mind.

But Vietgone is not about the war but rather the assimilation of the refugees into the American way of life. Tong and her mother Huong (Cindy Im) meet Quang and Nhan at the camp. Strong willed Tong is adapting but Huong is not. Quang who is married but when he meets Tong a sexual relationship evolves and love reluctantly but passionately intervenes.  While Quang wishes to return to Vietnam Tong wishes to become an American.

When Quang acquires a Yamaha motor-bike

Quang (James Seol, front) and his best buddy, Nhan (Stephen Hu), embark on motorbike trip from Arkansas to California in A.C.T.’s “Vietgone.” Photo by Kevin Berne.

he is ready to ride to California to get a plane to Guam and then a ship to Saigon. Against his better judgment Nhan goes along. That road trip takes them to encounters with a bigoted motor-biker, a pair of Hippies and the motor biker again that leads to a fanciful fight with Nijas coming to the rescue.

As the show moves back and forth in time playwright Nguyen inserts sociological  lei motifs about discrimination because of skin color and the way blacks are treated by whites: “North and South Vietnam may be at war, but at least we’re not fighting each other over something as stupid as the way we look.” Also the different viewpoints about America’s role in the war as mouthed by the Hippie and is defended by Quang in rap.

Rap and rap music are an integral part of the plays construction and is often inserted as dialog without music carrying the storyline such as Tong’s:

    Ironically we’re the ones they call the lucky ones

    But can we make a new life now that our old lives are done?

    America tries to help us start all over

    By putting us in camps in the middle of nowhere.

The final scene with Quang as an old man being interviewed by his son the author Nguyen is superb ending for the play.  Before that happens we are enthralled by the superb acting buttressed with technical lights, music, rap, staging and directing to make this thoughtful yet humorous play a must see production.

CAST: (in alphabetical order) Jenelle Chu as Tong; Stephen Hu as Nhan/Khue; Cindy Im as Thu/Huong; James Seol as Quang, and Jomar Tagatac as Playwright/Giai/Bobby.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director Jaime Castañeda; Brian Sidney Bembridge (Scenic Designer); Jessie Amoroso (Costume Designer); Wen-Ling Liao (Lighting Designer); Jake Rodriguez (Sound Designer); Chris Lundahl (Projection Designer); Shammy Dee (Original Music); Natalia Duong (Assistant Director); Jacquelyn Scott (Props Master);Jonathan Rider (Fight Director).

Kedar Adour, MD

Courtesy of


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