Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Set in modern day Seoul, North Korean defector Yoo Nanhee (Yunjin Kim) and a South Korean family man, Gook Minsung (James Kyson), are living lonely lives. Both are separated from the ones closest to them. Yoo's family, including her storytelling father (Francis Jue), are possibly suffering under the North Korean regime. Gook doesn't live with his wife and children in America because he is a "goose father" (a dad who stays overseas to support his kin). After meeting through a dating website, Yoo and Gook start an affair. Together, they figure out if their connection is a means to escape seclusion or if their feelings for each other are actually romantic.
There is no denying that playwright Jung's script feels very relevant. Even without ever mentioning dictator Kim Jong-un by name, audiences will be thinking about the growing tension between the U.S. and North Korea. Haunted by visions of her father, Yoo's risky escape left her emotionally scarred. Jung doesn't resort to creating simple depictions of the two countries. Instead, she focuses more on atmosphere and creating investment for the central couple. As a writer, Jung's style feels similar to some of Sarah Ruhl's more well known shows including Eurydice and The Clean House. Like the Tony Award-nominated writer, Jung creates a narrative that plays with fantasy, as well as using humor and serious drama.
An almost fairy tale-esque environment is created by director Leigh Silverman. She uses the acting ensemble to not only play various characters, but to form an a capella Greek chorus who represents the world wide web. For a few seconds, San Diegans might wonder if this stylistic choice will feel too self consciously experimental or pretentious. That never happens, because Silverman finds fresh and comical ways for the players to contribute to the plot. She is able to get colorful and expressive supporting performances from cast members like Samantha Wang, Kimberly Monks, and Julian Cihi. Her directorial style is so self-assured, that it can be easy to overlook Wilson Chin's set and Keith Parham's lighting. Chin's deceptively plain scenery helps allow the one-act play to feel intimate, and Parham's work visually heightens the depiction of cyberspace and Yoo's hallucinations of her father.
As with any play about love, a lot of the appeal comes from the relationship that forms between this sympathetic pair. Because of Kim and Kyson's work onstage, the sad introverts form a bond that is tender and awkwardly funny. When the couple is together, Yoo often worries about the fate of her father. Jue portrays the parental figure with an enigmatic presence. While he shows moments of warmth and charisma, he also can be harsh and judgmental. Since most of the appearances of Yoo's father are in her mind, it takes a long time to fully understand him.
With a script that is hard to categorize, this Wild Goose Dreams is ultimately a dramatically satisfying piece of theatre. A word of advice to make the evening as fresh as possible: Wait to read the interview in the program that features Jung and others until after watching the play, as it includes some foreshadowing of the conclusion.
Silverman and Jung have come up with a theatrical event that packs a punch for intelligent theatregoers. It's a bold and powerful presentation at the Mandell Weiss Forum.
La Jolla Playhouse presents Wild Goose Dreams in a co-production with New York's Public Theater through October 1, 2017, at 2910 La Jolla Village Dr, La Jolla CA. Tickets start at $35.00 and be purchased online at www.lajollaplayhouse.org or by phone at 1-858-550-1010.