Review: Vietgone – Seattle Repertory Theatre

What’s Up Northwest had the privilege to check out the Seattle Repertory’s production of “Vietgone’ on it’s opening night. So we grabbed our favorite 60’s baby boomer as our plus one and checked it out.

(L-R) James Ryen (Quang) and Will Dao (Nhan) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Vietgone. Photo by Navid Baraty.

First, we must admit that our understanding of the Vietnam conflict came generally from watching Walter Cronkite, teamed with history classes in high school and college. That education gave us an understanding it was a dark and confused time in U.S., filled with war protests, how our returning veterans were treated with disrespect and that the whole thing was a political exercise, not a fight for freedom. However – reading the bio about the playwright Qui Nguyen‘s perspective would open it to be interesting and entertaining, not dark and heavy. We looked forward to that personal perspective.

(L-R) Amy Kim Waschke (Huong) and Jeena Yi (Tong) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Vietgone. Photo by Navid Baraty.

SRT artistic director Branden Abraham explained it well;

“The story is loosely based on playwright Qui Nguyen’s parents’ experiences immigrating from Vietnam to the US and is spiced with Qui’s own brand of tongue-in-cheek humor. He deftly melds the sobering realities of immigration, the Vietnam war and assimilation with the feelings of youthful discovery so particular to the 1970s.”

Nguyen is also a TV/Film writer, and Co-Founder of the OBIE Award-winning New York City Vampire Cowboys. His work known is for being innovative, utilizing pop-culture, stage violence, puppetry, and multimedia, and has been called “Culturally Savvy Comedy” by The New York TimesHe’s listed as currently a writer for Marvel Studios, so with of all that in play – this should be a fun night at the theater.

Jeena Yi (Tong) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Vietgone. Photo by Navid Baraty.

And it was. In the Rep’s intimate Leo K. Theatre, it begins as the five actors emerge from the wings and the audience to explain how the story will unfold. Besides a quick intro, they addressed the language barrier by ‘flipping the script’ as the actors used a hip-hop infused English while the Americans speak in broken English with words like ‘french fries’ and ‘howdy’ spoken in random order. I thought it made it real, relatable and fresh as a way to connect with the central characters and tell a better story. The multimedia staging kept the story bright and visually satisfying.

(L-R) Amy Kim Waschke (Huong), Jeena Yi (Tong), Moses Villarama (Bobby), James Ryen (Quang), and Will Dao (Nhan) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Vietgone. Photo by Navid Baraty.

The criss-cross of paths, plans, and dreams of Quang and Tong that first brings them to America, then to each other is peppered with a mix of characters, situations and fun cultural references to keep the journey interesting and a bit unpredictable. (actor James Ryen kept bringing Karl Urban to mind) The balance of the cast plays every other character so convincingly that you will belive it is a larger ensemble.

The payoff was two-fold – as the stage and the actors transitioned to the last scene, advancing to present day and Ryen transforms to the elder Nguyen and begins recounting events for his son. His final thoughts wrapped it up beautifully AND balanced all the dark and negative associated with the Vietnam era. As much fun and creative as the production was, it was the last few statements that brought with them a new light and perspective of Vietnam in the 70s.

(L-R) Jeena Yi (Ninja) and James Ryen (Quang) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Vietgone. Photo by Navid Baraty.

The play is extremely popular and tickets are limited for the rest of the performances – so plan your night out soon. You must call the box office at 206.443.2222 for ticket availability. Vietgone runs from now until January 1, 2017.

Brandwrangler. Movie buff. Tech geek. Dedicated to CrossFit. Love the Northwest and the variety of experiences and adventures living here provides. “Asking “Why?” can lead to understanding. Asking “Why not?” can lead to breakthroughs.” – Daniel Pink

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