Vietgone, which recently opened at the Mixed Blood Theater is a hard show to classify. It is a love story, an immigrant story and a war story. It is also hilarious and very innovative.
The play tells the story of how the playwright, Qui Nguyen’s, parents met in a Vietnamese refugee camp in Arkansas in 1975. It is not constricted by linear storytelling, going back in time to Saigon to show how Quang (David Huynh) and Tong (Meghan Kreidler) came to the camp. Quang was a pilot in the air force, with a family he left in Vietnam who he is desperate to get back to. Tong worked at the embassy and when Saigon fell was able to get a ticket out and is ready to start a new life in America. The show is also filled with other characters, Tong’s mother played by Sun Mee Chomet (who is absolutely hilarious!). Quang’s best friend and army buddy, played by Flordelino Lagundina, and an American working at the camp eager for Tong’s affections, played by Sherwin Resurrection (who also plays the playwright).
The play takes you on a ride and all the performers and right there with you. They are fully invested, each one pouring humanity and comedy into their roles.
The show uses language in a very smart and funny way in order to frame who is who. The Vietnamese speak in modern English while English speakers speak in a nonsensical broken English, stringing together words like cheeseburger and cowboy. This method was introduced at the beginning of the play and is very effective in representing to the audience how language would be experienced as an immigrant or refugee coming to a new country.
Another unique device used in the play was soliloquy by way of hip hop. A way for the central characters to break away from the ongoing action to explain their emotions. Although I like this method in theory, and I liked in in practice at first, it didn’t take long for this to feel tired and over used.
Vietgone is not the only show that opened recently that uses comedy and an effective method to tell an important story (see Lone Star Spirits at the Jungle). So often when we hear about the Vietnam War it is from the view point of American soldiers and those who thought the war was a waste. We don’t hear about those who are living in a war zone, that have no choice on whether to participate or not and welcome international military interference. The politics of war like everything else is complicated and Vietgone highlights this in a very powerful way.
This is an important story to be told and it doesn’t hurt that it is a complete joy to watch.
Vietgone plays at the Mixed Blood Theater until April 30th.
*Photo by Rich Ryan