Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Beauty Queen of Leenane
The pop opera by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Richard Maltby Jr. & Alain Boublil (lyrics) borrows its plot from Puccini's opera Madama Butterflythe tragic romance of an Asian woman and an American military manbut adds a layer of sociopolitical comment by setting the story in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Kim is an orphan forced to work as a bar girl in the Engineer's seedy nightclub/brothel; Chris (Jason Michael Evans), a jaded Marine, finds purpose in rescuing her from degradation and planning to make a life with her in the U.S. What separates them are the vagaries of fate and the chaos during the fall of Saigon, not the willful desertion of Puccini's heroine by his hero.
Huey manages to show Kim's progression from naiveté, through hope, to despair without ever making the character simply a victim; once she understands her fate, she accepts it without question. However, Sesma provides the electricity that powers the production with his steely facial expressions, his lithe physicality, and his total identification with the character. "The American Dream" has always been a standout number, but Sesma's performance and Karma Camp's choreography turn it into a musical breakdown comparable to "Rose's Turn" or "Live, Laugh, Love."
Gannon O'Brien, in for Evans as Chris, is capable and affecting in what is actually a relatively small role. Chris Sizemore stands out as Chris' friend John, whose performance of "Bui Doi" soars.
In an environmental staging directed by Eric Schaeffer and designed by Adam Koch, the audience walks through strings of red lights and random pieces of trash as they approach their seats. Signature's MAX Theatre is an intimate black box, so viewers sit within a few feet of the stage, surrounded with rags overhead and haze in the air. Chris Lee's lighting design uses startling spots and washes of color to set moods, while Matt Rowe's sound design joins with Gabriel Mangiante's 16 musicians to propel the action.