“Vietgone” makes a word play of Viet Cong, which was the name for the National Liberation Front, an army of South Vietnamese and Cambodian forces that opposed the North Vietnamese.
“Vietgone” currently on stage at the Alley Theatre’s intimate Neuhaus Stage seeks with human desires rather than international politics. Yet at odd times during the play the dramatic momentum goes from emotional character motivation to political rah-rah, which in this case is a defense of the American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam as seen from the eyes of the main character.
“You lost your brother, I lost my entire country” yells Quang at a hippie who a moment before was a brethren in his cross-country motorcycle search for meaning.
Edward Chin-Lyn plays Quang with the stride and stance of a true leading actor. At times he walks tall and spouts ideals of patriotism with such conviction you’d think he was John Wayne. With every step Tong, played with abandon by Kim Wong as his female doppelganger, matches Quang. Both characters have been displaced by the Viet Nam war and find themselves drawn to each other as immigrants in an America refugee camp in Oklahoma after the fall of Saigon.
Playwright Qui Nguyen shifts back and forth from several time frames during the course of “Vietgone.” At times we’re in Vietnam right before the fall of Saigon, at other times we’re on the road with Quang and his buddy Nhan (Viet Vo who makes a mark as comic relief) on a motorcycle trip from Oklahoma to New Mexico, Arizona and finally California where they stand on the shore of the Pacific and realize the same body of water connects them to their mother country.
Houston has one of the biggest communities of expatriate Vietnamese.
Nguyen actually introduces the play and takes part in a well-deserved encore where the characters dance like they just walked out of “Saturday Night Fever.” The characters speak in pigeon English and Vietnamese although the audience hears everything in English.
It’s only at the daring last scene that Quang confronts his father, years after the events in the main body of the play, and the mode swings into kitchen sink realism as the characters break into real life accents and mannerisms.
Director Desdemona Chiang shows her stripes by moving the play with a rapid pace that takes in many dramatic styles. Perhaps the funniest is a montage, not unlike you see in the movies, where the characters mature through their life changes in a series of quick and entertaining moments accompanied with musical cues.
“Vietgone” should be considered an instant classic in the theatrical realm.
“Vietgone” runs at the Alley Theatre through November 3.
“Cats” has been running continuously since its premiere in 1981, and moves into the Hobby Center for a five –day engagement starting on Tuesday, October 22.
“Cats” was the musical that revolutionized Broadway into a medium of audience friendly plays over a generation ago. But its reputation is well deserved. The songs, from Andrew Lloyd Webber are memorable and the text derived from the poetry of T. S. Eliot delivers a satisfying prance through the animal kingdom as interpreted by dexterous actors.
“Cats” unwinds at the Hobby Center from October 22 through October 27.