‘Vietgone’ at the Unicorn Keeps it Real
I hate watching romantic comedies. I also have no particular reason to care about how your parents met and had you. However, the new production at the Unicorn Theatre, Vietgone, has both of those elements in it. And somehow, I really enjoyed it.
Of course, this is the Unicorn, which tends not to do things if there isn’t a little risk. So Vietgone is unlike any romance or family origin story I’ve seen.
The playwright, Qui Nguyen, wrote this story based on the real-life account of how his parents met. The story is of Quang and Tong, two refugees that, through a series of comic and tragic circumstances, end up at a refugee camp in Arkansas. Tong is with her mother and wants to start a new life in the United States. Quang is trying to get back to Vietnam to find his family.
The play skips back and forth through time and switches between Tong’s story and Quang’s, noting the random intersections of their lives, until it becomes more than just random. In between, there are sexual adventures, hip-hop routines and discussions about alienation or feeling uprooted. Oh yeah, there’s a ninja fight, too.
The five members of the all-Asian cast play about 16 characters in the play, so they are always moving back and forth across the stage, making it lively and fast-paced. The actors do a great job with the boundaried chaos, especially the two leads, Ai Vy Bui and Vi Tran.
What makes this especially remarkable is that this is not a variation on the “Americans helping the less fortunate cultures” story. There are no White Saviors. These are real characters with real lives, and they have as much control over them as possible.
As a very clever touch, the language spoken is assumed to be Vietnamese. So when an American shows up speaking English, all we hear is nonsense through slang. An American will show up and say “Cheeseburger, waffle fries, cholesterol.”
While following a “how my parents met” structure, the play is really about many different ideas and how they can get all mixed up. Hanging on must turn to letting go, but sometimes letting go must turn to hanging on. It’s better to be emotionless … until it’s not. Homelessness is also a way to start finding a new home.
Vietgone is a unique play with a unique cast. The themes are unique to the Vietnam war and also universal to human life. You won’t regret going to see this.
Vietgone is playing at the Unicorn Theatre through May 13. Tickets: https://www.unicorntheatre.org or 816-531-PLAY (7529).