Sunday, April 16, 2017

Vietgone at Mixed Blood Theatre

There simply aren't enough adjectives to describe Vietgone by Qui Nguyen, now playing at Mixed Blood Theatre through April 30. 

But here are a few: Hilarious, irreverent, touching, sexy, energetic, surprising, romantic, raunchy, thought-provoking, enlightening, pop-culture-reference-filled, heart-breaking, and did I mention completely hilarious?


Playwright Qui Nguyen, a self-described "playwright, screenwriter, geek!" is the co-founder of NYC theater company Vampire Cowboys and has a fascinating catalog of plays with titles like Alice in Slasherland, Living Dead in Denmark, Six Rounds of Vengeance, and She Kills Monsters. [Note: Can someone in the Twin Cities please produce all of these plays immediately? Kay, thanks!] 

With Vietgone, Nguyen tells the story of his parents meeting in a refugee camp in Arkansas in 1975 after immigrating from Vietnam after the war. I love this video from that explains his parents' reaction to a first reading of this play:

Essentially, his mother said the play didn't sound like him at all. So he went back, worked on it, and made it more him. The play has a fascinating style. Nguyen explains the unique tone in a New York Times article (Diep Tran, NYT, 10/6/16):
It’s a story that Mr. Nguyen grew up hearing and knows well, but it has also been filtered through his pop-culture-filled and irreverent sensibility.
“When my parents told me stories about Vietnam, they told me the real stories, what actually happened,” he explained. “But what I imagined was kung fu movies. Because the only things I ever saw [growing up] that had a lot of Asian people in it, were kung fu movies.”
So there is kung fu in “Vietgone,” and ninjas. As in Mr. Nguyen’s other works, everyone speaks in a modern voice and raps — and no one speaks with “an Asian accent,” part of his fight against minority stereotypes.
Stefon tells you all about Vietgone.
Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty
The result? This show has EVERYTHING. So much that I need to list it in bullet form:
  • A touching, true story
  • A fascinating, thought-provoking look at an another aspect of the Vietnam War
  • Amazing fight scenes and NINJAS
  • Rap and hip-hop interspersed in the narrative
  • Songs and dancing
  • Delightful pop culture references
  • Romance and sexy sex for days
  • A spare, but clever set
And the cast. The Twin Cities Theater Bloggers annually award the best in local theater, and it will be hard to top Vietgone for Best Ensemble.

Sherwin Resurreccion, Sun Mee Chomet and Meghan Kreidler
Photo by Rich Ryan
David Huynh plays Quang, a helicopter pilot who longs to get home to his family in Vietnam. He meets Tong, played by Meghan Kreidler, in the refugee camp, who is embracing life in America. The two get it on and fall in love--in that order. Sun Mee Chomet plays Tong's mother, Flordelino Lagundino plays Quang's good friend, and Sherwin Resurreccion plays the playwright himself. Chomet, Langundino and Resurreccion play all the rest of the characters in the cast as well--depicting a variety of characters with little more than wigs and a costume change.

But this CAST.

Huynh's Quang is vibrantly complex: intense, melancholy, funny, and sexy. His relationship with Kriedler's Tong is equally complex, and their witty, sarcastic relationship is right up there with the best romantic comedies (to which the play pays homage). Chomet, as Tong's mother, gives one of the most hilarious performances I've ever seen on stage. Lagundino gives a sweetness and groundedness to his characters. And Resurreccion plays all of his characters with his customary skill and humor, such as Bobby, an American soldier who takes a shine to Tong, and courts her in pidgin English (actually Vietnamese) in a delightfully over-the-top Southern accent. Also, the relationship between 'the playwright' and his father is beautifully depicted, and it's fascinating to see David Huynh utterly disappear into his older self at the end.

Meghan Kreidler and NINJAS.
Photo by Rich Ryan
Director Mark Valdez masterfully manages a complex story and a wide variety of storytelling styles to create an amazingly cohesive show. Paul Whitaker's minimal set and lighting design uses just a few pieces of furniture, sliding screens, and some effective projections to transport us through decades, across the country, across the world, into a war, and to a refugee camp. Add some touches of interstitial rap, amazing fight choreography, and even some dancing, and you have an enormously energetic production that keeps its perfectly irreverent tone for two and a half hours (w/intermission).

I can't say enough, and yet I'm saying too much. Just go see it.

Don't let accessibility get in your way. Mixed Blood Theatre is dedicated to complete accessibility. Read more about their Disability Initiative.

Don't let cost get in your way either. Check out Mixed Blood Theatre's Radical Hospitality program.

Trust me. Go.