The heart of Hansol Jung’s play at the Public Theater is the relationship between two lonely, awkward people in South Korea who connect through an online dating site. But the play also features a talking penguin in the toilet. And a North Korean military marching band. And the seven-member chorus singing strange snippets of sound and songs, turning the noise of the Internet — Internet searches, emoticons, instructions and announcements (“Delete,” “Scroll,” “You have no new messages,” “You have no new friends,” “Disconnected”) — into literal noise. And the scenic design by Clint Ramos, which is vivid with graffiti and neon signs in Korean, and columns painted like psychedelic flowers, and old family photographs and new advertising posters, and a bright red runway into the audience that none of the ten-member cast use until the very end.
“Wild Goose Dreams” is cluttered with cleverness, awash with theatrical invention. What makes the play worth seeing, though, is its quieter but in many ways richer aspects – the complexity and pathos of the three central characters.
Guk Minsung (Peter Kim) is a middle-aged married man, but his wife and children are living in the United States – a situation common enough that Koreans give it a name (which helps explain the play’s title): goose fathers. Minsung explains: “Geese migrate, just as the goose dad must travel a great distance to see his family.”
The woman he meets online, Yoo Nanhee (Michelle Krusiec) defected from North Korea four years earlier, and has been unable to keep in touch with her family. She arranged through an intermediary to smuggle in a cell phone to her father, but the reception was so bad, she is not even sure it was her father – and he might not have been. It could have been a con by the intermediary, or a trick by the totalitarian regime. Missing her family, Nanhee hallucinates (and is haunted by) the presence of her father (Francis Jue), sometimes seeing him as a penguin. The penguin is a significant metaphor, for it has wings but cannot fly. The guilt and loneliness she feels are compounded by the sense that her life is no more meaningful than, as she puts it, “the tip of a toenail that is clipped off during a pedicure.”
Minsung and Nanhee, misfits who make an unlikely couple, grow on you the way the main characters did in Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune.” There is much humor and several awww-inspiring moments in “Wild Goose Dreams,” including a heartfelt song that Minsung writes for Nanhee (actually composed by Paul Castles.): Now working for a phone company, Minsung was once a musician, and his feelings for Nanhee bring out his creative side.
But be warned: The play swerves in a couple of unexpected directions. It would be unfair to reveal these, except to say: 1. It involves, in part, a viral video, which allows for further comment on our era’s online obsession. 2. What happens makes “Wild Goose Dreams” something far different from a romantic comedy.
Director Leigh Silverman (who is currently represented on Broadway by Lifespan of a Fact), functions as something of a ringmaster, given all the antics by the ensemble. (If the point of the brief, odd choral eruptions is to demonstrate how distracting and sometimes annoying online life can be, mission accomplished.) But Silverman also deserves credit for the three central performances, which manage to be both unaffected and affecting, straightforwardly credible and somehow also deeply lyrical. Given Nanhee’s dreams and hallucinations, it’s clear the character views the world as a series of metaphors. So does the playwright, and we are the better for it.
Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.
Wild Goose Dreams
Written by Hansol Jung
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Scenic Designer: Clint Ramos
Costume Designer: Linda Cho
Lighting Designer: Keith Parham
Sound Designer: Palmer Hefferan
Composer: Paul Castles
Korean Music Composer: Jongbin Jung
Music Supervisor: Charity Wicks
Movement Director: Yasmine Lee
Special Effects Designer: Lillis Meeh
Cast: Dan Domingues (Chorus), Lulu Fall (Digital Nanhee/Chorus), Kendyl Ito (Heejin/Chorus), Francis Jue (Father), Peter Kim (Guk Minsung), Michelle Krusiec (Yoo Nanhee),Jaygee Macapugay (Wife/Chorus), Joél Pérez(Digital Minsung/Chorus), Jamar Williams(Chorus), and Katrina Yaukey (Chorus)
Tickets: $65-$150. Rush tickets $20
Running time: one hour 45 minutes with no intermission
Wild Goose Dreams is scheduled to run through December 16, 2018