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BWW Review: VIETGONE at Geva Theatre

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"Vietgone" is a 2017 play by playwright, television writer, and screenwriter Qui Nguyen.

BWW Review: VIETGONE at Geva Theatre

Until recently, seeing live indoor theatre seemed like a relic of the distant past, and sitting in the audience for a play that can only be described as a rap-infused comic book comedy about Vietnamese refugees is something that definitely wasn't on my bingo card for 2021, and yet here we are. There's a lot to unpack with "Vietgone", but overall, productions with this much flair, surprise, and unique storytelling are exactly what I've missed about Geva Theatre over the past 18 months.

"Vietgone" is a 2017 play by playwright, television writer, and screenwriter Qui Nguyen. It tells the story of Quang (Kurt Uy) and Nhan (Andrew Cristi), two friends who land in an Arkansas refugee camp after the fall of Saigon in 1975. While in the camp Quang meets Tong (Geena Quintos) and her mother (Melody Buitu), who also fled Saigon, leaving behind Tong's fiancée Giai (Hansel Tan). It's a hilarious (and only slightly not-true) version of how Nguyen's parents met and built a life for themselves in a new land.

There are myriad labels that could be accurately applied to "Vietgone". Substantively the subject matter at the core of the piece couldn't be weightier: geopolitics, war, and the human fallout that often stems from said war, most notably humanitarian and refugee crises. So, "drama" comes to mind. BUT, narratively the show mainly centers on the romance between Quang and Tong (and tangentially the love triangle between Quang-Tong-Bobby-Giai; love rectangle?) So, "romance" also applies. BUT, aesthetically "Vietgone" layers-on everything from cheeseball kung-fu sequences to comic book panels to video game sound/light design to the comedic stylings of 80's high school movies. How you capture all of that into one tidy label I'm not sure, but it speaks to the unique voice of Nguyen and how pop culture informs his storytelling in unforeseen and unexpected ways. If Quentin Tarantino pivoted into playwrighting, I imagine he'd be very Qui Nguyen-reminiscent.

In terms of execution, director Pirronne Yousefzadeh is very much up to the challenge of this piece, building an onstage world that captures the terror of warfare and family separation while also bringing out the very best in her performers. While all five actors have moments of greatness, Hansel Tan stands out for his ability to pivot between multiple characters, engage in slapstick physical comedy, and also hilariously communicate the language barrier between Americans and the Vietnamese.

"Vietgone" is heartfelt and stupendously funny, but most importantly it's timely, highlighting the refugee experience through a totally fresh and unique POV. Nguyen surely wasn't looking down the road four years when he wrote "Vietgone in 2017, but Geva audiences happen to be enjoying this play only weeks after President Biden pulled all U.S troops out of Afghanistan, leading to a toppling of that government by Al Qaeda and an ensuing refugee crisis quite similar to what was experienced after the fall of Saigon; it speaks to the power of theatre to tie the present to the past.

"Vietgone" is playing at Geva Theatre's Wilson Stage until October 24th, for tickets and more information click here.


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From This Author Colin Fleming-Stumpf