It’s entirely appropriate that WTF – excellent title – by Katie Ka Vang (Mu Performing Arts, at Mixed Blood Theatre, through
Feb 6) is being produced in the midst of our nastiest winter in years. WTF is bleak, hallucinatory and intense, sprawling and long (nearly 3 hours), a hip-hip inflected piece that alternately thrills and frustrates. Like the enormous snowbanks filling our city, WTF will make you shiver. Be prepared.
The play portrays Hmong culture in Minnesota. The characters are second and third generation, kids mostly, people for whom culture, language and family provide precious little in the way of effective guideposts (“Our parents did the best they could with what they knew”). Some, like Hope (played with wonderful prancing energy by Gaosong Vang) find solace in straight As. Some join the Marines (Billy Xiong, in a very sweet turn). Some become hip-hop singers (Fres Thao, in a crackerjack performance).
And some just drift, in hopes that life will, somehow, send them something they can latch onto. The plot revolves around two such characters, True (Sun Mee Chomet) and Sunday (Saikong Yang). True’s pregnancy provides a reason for them to overcome inertia and anger (and Sunday’s misguided attempt to smuggle opium for his addicted father) and become a real couple. They take us on a long but ultimately affecting journey.
Sun Mee Chomet plays True with still, muted intensity. This worked for me – it gives her tragic power – but it may not be to everyone’s liking. I wish the people who walked out would have waited five minutes to see her end-of-the-act rock throwing, in which True transforms herself into a whirling venting blur of wild frustration. Breath-taking work.
Even better, arguably – because Sunday is an artist and can thus be played with more active energy – is Saikong Yang. We see Sunday’s wheels moving, as he deliberately and slowly, yet uniquely and creatively processes everything. His impish smile delights. Yang’s resume is thin, but he is very talented. I hope he pursues this craft.
Indeed, major kudos are due director Randy Reyes for taking a young and inexperienced cast (with the exception of Ms. Chomet, who trained at NYU and is highly accomplished) and making them work so well. This bespeaks real skill on his part.
Kudos also to Mu Performing Arts for taking on such a difficult play. The play-goers at the performance I attended were young and (I would guess) 70% Hmong. Any production that appeals to a community and to such a youthful audience has something genuine going on.
For more information on John Olive, please go to his website.