Vietgone: a frantic clutch-popper

Mixed Blood Theatre, through April 30

Sun Mee Chomet and Meghan Kreidler in Vietgone. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Mixed Blood Theatre, in its PR material, calls Qui Nguyen‘s breathless Vietgone (running at MB thru April 30) a “mash-up,” and that it most certainly is, a delirious (if mash-ups are your cup of tea) and graceless (if not) combo of anachronistic music, over-the-top acting, farcical physical comedy, a peripatetic time structure, one-joke scenes, and wild and wonderful theatricality.

Does this kind of thing float your boat? If so, betake yourself immediately to Mixed Blood and check out Vietgone. The play may not completely satisfy, but the acting, wow. Vietgone features 5 of the twin cities’ finest.

Sun Mee Chomet, for example. Chomet plays the sexiest old lady you will ever encounter. Huong. She’s an utter delight, all angles and elbows. “I never scream!” she screams. Don’t bother speaking to Huong in English; she’ll make you sorry. Chomet can turn a McDonald’s Happy Meal into pure comic gold. Brava.

Sherwin Resurreccion, with his white Liberace fright wig and his laid back pot-smoking trippy dippy hippy persona will make you howl. It’s a pleasure to see one of the area’s most serious and intellectual actors stretch like this. Flordelino Lagundino as Nahn, the screechingly energized sidekick is fab.

And then there’s Meghan Kreidler. She plays Tong. Yikesfire. Kreidler uses her imposing physical presence to great effect in this play. She’s Vietgone‘s thematic center, the softly ambitious American. Possessor of the clearest vision. And her quiet hip-hop songs took me to a theatrical planet from which I was ever-sorry to return. Kreidler is emerging as one of the area’s best talents. She provides a major reason to see Vietgone.

As Quang, David Huynh forces you to pay attention. His journey may not be crystal clear (Where is he going all the time, does he seriously expect to return to Vietnam, what does he want?) but Huynh has a crackling charisma and his sexual connection with Tong does wonders for them both.

Kudos to director Mark Valdez. He makes this swirling theatricality make sense.

Vietgone suffers (too strong a word – if I can think of a better one I’ll put it in) from frustrating ambivalence about Vietnam, about the country, the War, the culture. Were the VC (VC, as you may know, is an English language construct; Viet Cong = Vietnamese Communist) heroes or vile murderers? Or both. Are Americans mistaken in their belief that this war was a colossal mistake? Tong and Quang are Vietnamese, but do they have a clear understanding of their country? “I lost my whole family,” Quang says (again and again), but last time I looked Vietnam was doing fine. Is he right? Is he wrong?

But really, how can we expect Vietgone to be clear about this country? Vietnam is a fantasy, a bloody mirage. A rock and roll horrorshow. It was then. It still is.

But in the meantime, in Vietgone, Qui Nguyen has given us a hugely enjoyable play.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.

 

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