When we are born, we are, in the words of the famous University of Minnesota geneticist David Lykken, “exposed negatives.” Environment – our rearing – controls how well that negative is developed. But most of what we possess comes directly from our birth parents: our personalities, our looks, our intelligence, whether we are disposed to careers in the arts, or in science, our choice of spouse. Everything. My birth father looks at me every morning in my bathroom mirror. My birth mother resides in my work. My parents have died, but I think about them every day. They live on in my dreams.
But if you are an adoptee, and especially if you hail from another culture, your birth parents may be unavailable. Your adoptive parents, no doubt, nurtured you brilliantly and lovingly. Still, your life brims with aching emptiness, an ever-growing hole. Who were my birth parents? Why couldn’t they keep me? What does this woman, my mother, feel about me? Does she think about me? What does she remember? Who was I? Who am I? You long to tell her, “I’m okay. I’m healthy. I’ve lived a good life.” But you can’t.
Performers Katie Hae Leo and Sun Mee Chomet, both Korean adoptees, undertook, with calm and quiet courage, a search for their birth families. They recall their experiences in two solo shows, performed together in the moving and beautiful The Origin(s) Project: Memoirs In Motion (at Dreamland Arts, through June 7).
Ms. Leo’s search, recounted in N/A, was unsuccessful. Tall and angular, poised and powerful, it takes us some time to fully comprehend the depth of Leo’s disappointment. Leo suffers from a disorder, dystonia, which has a definite genetic component; locating her birth family has genuine urgency. But it is not to be. Despite her travels in Korea, Leo is left with mere maybes: “The signature of my ancestors is written in my blood; but I can’t read it.” N/A builds to a quiet, yet forceful climax. Wonderful.
Ms. Chomet’s search, on the other hand, succeeds. She finds her birth mother, after appearing on the Korean reality TV show “I Miss That Person.” Chomet’s marvelous How To Be A Korean Woman runs an hour and fifteen minutes and in it the engaging Chomet conjures up her trips to Korea with rollicking comedy, raw emotion and beautifully stylized dance. I still get chills when I think of Chomet’s wrenching rendering of her first encounter with her Korean mother – “Oh-ma. Oh-ma.” A talented (and successful) actor, Chomet bristles with power, both physical and emotional. How To Be A Korean Woman mesmerizes.
Nicely directed by Zaraawar Mistry (who has the good sense to stage the material and then get out of the way) The Origin(s) Project has a very short run. Dreamland Arts is an exquisite space, but it’s small. I suspect The Origin(s) Project will quickly sell out, so make your rezzies asap. Hopefully the show will be extended – or move to another venue.
For more info about John Olive please visit his website.