Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity - Theater Mu

Thank you, May Lee-Yang and Theater Mu.

After seeing The Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity (at Park Square Andy Boss stage through August 19), I'm officially obsessed with Korean Dramas.

Even a brief Netflix search has me making popcorn and doing some serious couch nestling. So much unrequited love! So many opposites attracting! So many marriages of convenience! Such pretty people!

But back to the outside world and the play for a minute. Here's the story:
She’s a Hmong personality coach addicted to Korean Dramas (Korean soap operas). He’s the heir to a Korean manufacturing giant banished to the new Midwest office. Will she find a man before the magic hour of her 30th birthday? Will he buck tradition and embrace his musical dreams? Fantasy collides with reality in this romantic comedy about fate, cultural clashes, and the art of losing one’s virginity.
Enter the heir (Benedict Song). Photo by Rich Ryan.
Theater Mu commissioned this play by May Lee-Yang, and it's been in the works for a couple of years. May Lee-Yang has done a number of fascinating projects, which you can read about on her website: Lazy Hmong Woman, including plays written in Hmong, works with Hmong elders and plays like Ten Reasons Why I’d Be a Bad Porn Star, which I need to see immediately.

She also teaches creative writing and theater to teens and elders through COMPAS, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, and Mu Performing Arts. In other parts of her life, she is a co-founder of Community Artist Leadership Initiative (C.A.L.I.), an organization whose mission is to build the leadership capacity of marginalized artist and is a co-founder of F.A.W.K. (Funny Asian Women…K), a collaborative to empower Asian women through comedy.
When does she find time to watch Korean dramas? Seriously! May Lee-Yang has a fascinating, fresh and funny voice. Although the idea of Korean dramas was pretty new to me, Lee-Yang provided a great introduction to the subject and included lots of nods and jokes for devotees. At any rate, the characters--from our young heroine Gao Hlee and dreamboat Benedict to devoted assistant Secretary Kim and Gao Hlee's Mom--were all richly drawn and hilarious.

Dexieng Yang, Katie Bradley and Benedict Song KILLING IT. Photo by Rich Ryan
In the Director's Note, Randy Reyes notes that "this play allowed them to hire ten actors from the Hmong, Korean and Pakistani community; seven have never been in a Mu show before." Most of these actors were new to me, which is utterly delightful. 

Gao Hlee (the personality coach) is played by Dexieng Yang and, amazingly, this is her first professional show. She's endearing, relatable and funny and I look forward to seeing her much more on local stages. Brian Kim as Benedict was also a new find, but what a find. He portrays the imperious, but gradually softening heir perfectly. He'd make a great Mr. Darcy. And what a voice! If we'd had lighters, we have been sparking them up during his amazing singing scene. 

Brian Kim and Clay Man Soo. Photo by Rich Ryan.
Clay Man Soo, as Benedict's assistant, is youthful and engaging. His portrayal of Secretary Kim is so delightful and lovable that even a surprising change of clothes produces a great laugh. He's another rising star to keep an eye on. Shout-outs as well to Phasoua Vang as Gao Hlee's hilarious but practical mother, Katie Bradley as Benedict's mother, and Gregory Yang as "Ph.D. candidate" and activist Tou Mong. 

The scenic design (by Sarah Brandner) is spare but effective, with only a few boxes carried on and off stage by the cast, to indicate bars, cars, and beds (insert wiggling eyebrows here). The sound design (by Matthew Vichlach) is beautifully done and adds immeasurably to the spare staging. 

Khadija Siddiqui, Mai See Lee, Katie Bradley and Dexieng Yang. Photo by Rich Ryan.
In May Lee-Yang's Playwright's Notes, she says:
I began this project wearing my fangirl and playwright hat, but I was also intentional about writing a romantic comedy. As a Person of Color, it is rare to see our narratives represented on the stage, TV, and movies. If we exist, we are relegated to supporting roles, educating people about our past, or speaking with broken accents. Asian women are fetishized and paired with any romantic lead but an Asian man, and Asian men are usually emasculated. I wanted to do something revolutionary: write a love story that centers on two Asian people.
And she does so BEAUTIFULLY. Go see this amazing new work so that she'll write many more! But if you need me? I'll be watching some K-dramas.