BWW Review: The Welders' HELLO, MY NAME IS Immerses Audiences in Intimate Adoptee Stories
Upon arriving at Rhizome DC, the homelike site of the Welders' theatrical event HELLO, MY NAME IS..., I was handed a name tag before being ushered into a living room. Many members of the fifteen-person audience had already arrived. From that point, it was a fully immersive experience as we witnessed the distinct but interwoven stories of three Korean adoptees in search of their identities.
The opening scene is a surprise party for June (Linda Bard), a six-year-old Korean girl who arrives that day to her adoptive American family. It sets the tone for the whole piece: intimate, awkward on purpose, and even surreal. Cast members guide the audience through the house, and it becomes apparent that we're not limited to a domestic setting. Rooms are separate performance spaces; venturing to the next room may mean visiting different characters or traveling through space and time. The unexpected flow of events adds value to the experience, so I'll leave out any spoilers here.
Main characters, including June, age into young adults but are played - skillfully - by the same actors. Dana (Janine Baumgardner) has a largely positive adoption experience, with a wealthy family and college education. Bryan (Jon Jon Johnson) is on the opposite end of the spectrum, festering in a foster home and failing to be adopted. June's story falls somewhere in the middle. All three long to visit Korea to connect with a lost past, a distant culture, and most importantly, their parents.
The supporting performers have to ham it up somewhat in order to keep things moving, but the main three are allowed to be almost naturalistic, especially because of their close proximity. Impeccable sound (Roc Lee) and lighting design (Katie McCreary) create distinct atmospheres, even believably simulating a plane ride to Korea. Clever props and set dressing (Patti Kalil) help indicate the passage of time without being a distraction.
In addition to addressing broad themes of identity through personal stories, the production delves into complex social issues. From Dana's perspective, it's a blessing Korea allows its abandoned children to be adopted. But from Bryan's, the Korean government should be held accountable for a system that allows parents to illegally abandon their children in the first place.
On a traditional stage, the story might have come off as too reductive. This medium, billed as "one part art installation, one part performance art", is perhaps the only way to effectively express the material by lead producing playwright Deb Sivigny, who writes poignantly from her own experience as a Korean adoptee.
At times during the performance, I felt like an extra in a film, part of the scene as I chatted and sampled snacks and drinks. But at the best moments, I felt I was trying to blend into the wall as I looked in on someone's real life. That is theatre at its finest.
Running time: under 90 minutes with no intermission.
HELLO, MY NAME IS... runs through November 12, 2017, at Rhizome DC, 6950 Maple Street NW, Washington, DC 20012. Tickets can be purchased at www.thewelders.org.
Photo: Linda Bard as June, courtesy of The Welders.