You For Me For You by Mu Performing Arts, performing in The Guthrie’s Dowling.

Audrey Park and Sun Mee Chomet in You For Me For You. Photo: Rich Ryan.

Audrey Park and Sun Mee Chomet in You For Me For You. Photo: Rich Ryan.

“You should have starved yourself to death, before you let our son die.” This from the ghost of Minhee’s deceased husband.

“I tried,” Minhee replies, quietly.

Yikes. This is not a play for the faint of heart.

Mia Chung‘s moving and frightening You For Me For You (Mu Performing Arts, working in the Guthrie‘s Dowling space, through March 6) is performed with a quiet, almost secretive energy (huge kudos to director Randy Reyes, Mu’s artistic director; may his reign be long). It’s about North Korea and the escape therefrom of two joined-at-the-hip yet dramatically different sisters. They make their way to the border, where they…

I’ll stop here. Some surprising stuff happens in this play and I’m not going to reveal anything specific about the plot (you don’t want me to).

Designer Karin Olson lights You For Me For You with dim, murky, expressionistic slashes of light. The kind of light that makes you need to lean forward, not wanting to miss an image, or the smallest nuance of the amazing performances.

Chung takes the position that North Korea is a horrorshow, a land filled with malnutrition and rank terror. Where watching Star Wars is dangerous. I agree entirely with this POV but it’s worth noting that not everyone does; many people believe the propaganda, that North Korea is a workers paradise, watched over benevolently by the dear leaders.

For me, You For Me For You is a study of Asian shame: how dare you be alive when your husband and parents and your child are dead? How can you eat with them lying in their tombs? Who do you think you are, that you believe you can have a life, a future? Shame is inescapable, part of who you are, and the struggles of sisters Junhee (Audrey Park) and Minhee (the astonishing Sun Mee Chomet) is rise above it is breath-taking. They make you feel, vividly, the pangs of starvation, the need to fashion some kind of existence in the U.S., the love they hold for each other and, God help them, for their twisted nation.

Good as these two actors are, they are surrounded by brilliance: Kurt Kwan plays a series of characters – the automaton-like doctor, the coyote leading the sisters to freedom, Minhee’s deceased spouse, among many others – beautifully. JuCoby Johnson plays Wade with truly winning charm and Sara Richardson gives the play much needed comic oomph. Her cheerful ersatz English is a scream.

You For Me For You is not for everybody. If dinner digesting entertainment is what you crave, I would recommend A Chorus Line at the Ordway or Latté Da‘s wonderful Gypsy.

But for pure heartfelt intensity, You For Me For You can’t be beat.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has just been published. The audiobook has just been finished (John did the voice) and a Chinese translation is in progress. John’s adaptation of Art Dog is playing at the Denver Children’s Theatre. For more info, please visit John’s website.

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