The play begins with the playwright (played by Viet Vo) introducing the play and assuring the audience that the play is most definitely not about him or his parents, wink wink. He explains the language used in the play, namely that the Vietnamese characters will speak in modern American English, while the American characters will speak in broken English and use a lot of phrases like "french fries, cheeseburger, yeehaw." This brilliant choice normalizes the refugees while really allowing us to see the experience from their perspective. And it's also really funny.*
|Quang (Hyunmin Rhee) and Tong (Emjoy Gavino)|
(photo by Dan Norman)
|photo by Dan Norman|
The mostly non-local cast personifies these characters and this story well. Emjoy Gavino gives a gutsy performance as Tong, a character who unapologetically knows who she is and what she wants. Hyunmin Rhee is also great as the conflicted Quang, torn behind the family he left behind and the life ahead of him. Ensemble members Rebecca Hirota, Viet Vo, and #TCTheater's own Eric Sharp play multiple roles, making each one distinct, whether funny or heart-breaking. And they're all dressed in some fab '70s wear (designed by Enver Chakartash).
The spectacular set features a mostly bare stage with raised levels on either side, a moveable screen revealing a collection of Americana along the back wall, several whole or part motorcycles, and bunk beds and a picnic table for the refugee camp set. Beautiful projections on the screen and/or back wall help set the tone and scene. (Scenic design Lex Liang, projection design by Nicholas Hussong.)
Vietnam is a complicated war for many reasons. When Americans think or talk about it, it's usually in the context of what a mistake it was, or the protests against it, or the horrible way our vets were treated when they returned. But, as this play so elegantly says, for the people of South Vietnam, war wasn't a choice. American involvement was not a mistake, it was a ray of hope. There are wars going on around the world today, wars that America may or may not get involved in, and should or should not get involved in, depending on who you ask. But what's certain is that the people in the path of war don't have a choice and don't want it, and American is supposed to be the safe place to which they can come to make a better life for themselves and their families, like Tong and Quang did.*
See the beautifully written and perfectly executed Vietgone at the Guthrie through October 16.
*Some text borrowed from what I wrote about Mixed Blood Theatre's 2017 production.