By Jay Worthington
We should treat refugees much better than we do. This was the thought that kept running through my mind while watching the Chicago premiere of Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone” at Writers Theatre.
The story begins with the chaos of the Vietnam War where we meet Quang, energetically portrayed by Matthew C. Yee, a Vietnamese helicopter pilot flying missions for the USA. Quang risks his life during an attack to save many of his fellow countrymen, but in so doing is separated from his wife and small children and ends up in a refugee camp in America. It is at this refugee camp where the harsh realities of being a stranger in a foreigner country begin to hit home. Shoddy food, sparse accommodations, and no plan for helping these refugees is standard operating procedure at this camp. Shameful. However, this is not a play about refugees. At least, not explicitly.
This is a play about love. The “probably mostly true” story of how the playwright’s parents met. They met at the refugee camp in question. Quang meets Tong, heroically played by understudy Emily Marso at the performance I saw, and the incendiary courtship begins. Through Hamilton-esque rap interludes and comedic side trips with Quang’s best friend we see the highs and lows of their courtship.
Alas, perhaps due to the light and zany nature of the storytelling, I was never able to fully invest in Quang and Tong’s story. I never got the sense I truly understood why they loved each other. The dismissive and unresolved way in which Quang’s wife and children were dealt with gnawed at me.
And again and again I found my mind drifting to how we treat refugees in this country and how it has scarcely changed if not gotten worse. That I was thinking more about our current political climate than I was interested in the story’s journey is perhaps more damning than I intend. This production is solid, but it left me wanting so much more.
Thru September 29th
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