Vietgone Review: Vietnamese Refugees’ Love, War and Rap

Jennifer Ikeda as Tong and Raymond Lee as Quang

Jennifer Ikeda as Tong and Raymond Lee as Quang

“This is not a story about war; it’s a story about falling in love,” the playwright tells us at the outset of “Vietgone,” a play by Qui Nguyen that manages to be both as puckish as a comic book and as poignant as a family tragedy. The “playwright” (who’s not really the playwright, but an actor portraying him) also says it’s not about his parents. (“If any of you peeps repeat or Retweet anything to my folks tonight, you’re assholes.”) Actually, the play is about his parents falling in love, and it’s also about war.

Quan and Tong meet in a refugee camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas in 1975, after the fall of Saigon. He wakes her up from a nightmare about the fate of her loved ones back in Vietnam.
But the scene of her bad dream, which doesn’t occur until the end of Act I, is one of the few directly dark ones in “Vietgone.” Nguyen and director May Adrales find such richly inventive and entertaining ways to tell the story of these two refugees that the play feels wiped clean of the clichés of both the “immigrant experience” and “the hell of war.”

The Vietnamese characters speak in fluent, colloquial English, often a form of hip California surfer dude-speak (lots of “bro” and “yo”), while the Americans mostly speak like barely coherent yahoos. The most outlandish example: “Yee-haw! Get’er done! Cheeseburger, waffle fries, cholesterol!” The reversal here both makes a terrific point (Think of all those illiterate-sounding foreigners in Hollywood movies), and it’s hilarious.

Tong and Quang also perform at least a half dozen full-on raps between them, which are jarring at first. One may ask why a Vietnamese refugee is rapping in 1975, but is that any more anachronistic than Hamilton rapping in 1776?

Nguyen, who is a fight director as well as co-founder of the pop-besotted, self-described “geek theater” company Vampire Cowboys, manages to work in fisticuffs with a redneck biker and martial art maneuvers with masked ninjas. The set design by Tim Mackabee is a parody of the American road movie. Quang and his sidekick Nhan ride a rusted old motorcycle on a road dotted with telephone poles, gorgeous skies (courtesy of  lighting designer Justin Townsend) and two imposing billboards, which serve as screens for Jared Mezzocchis’s alternately informative and eye-catching projections. These are a kind of kinetic stage adaptation of the graphic novel aesthetic.

For all the pop culture silliness, the playfulness with language, and the clever stagecraft, “Vietgone” paints complex and credible portraits of the two main characters.

It is hard to picture better casting than Raymond Lee as Quang and Jennifer Ikeda as Tong, who are never less than appealing, even as they believably embody their characters’ scarred and occasionally off-putting personas. Quang, a former pilot in the South Vietnamese Army who was forced to leave his wife and two young children back home, is determined to return to Vietnam – that’s what he’s doing on that motorcycle; he has a harebrained plan to drive to California, take a flight to Guam, and then sneak back into his mother country. Tong is determined to stay in America, and stay single, resisting her mother’s pressure to get married. She strives to be “the sheer opposite of every Vietnamese woman on the planet.”

She has a cynical attitude towards love. When she seduces Quang, who refers to their “making love,” she replies:

“There was no “love” between these sheets. There was some stress, a bit of rage, and a shitload of frustration, but love had nothing to do with what we just did. “

This attitude, we eventually learn, is rooted in her experiences back home. She couldn’t convince her brother to escape with her because he didn’t want to leave his girlfriend.

The three other cast members in “Vietgone” – John Hoche,  Samantha Quan and Paco Tolson —  each play about a half dozen characters, and they are impressive quick-change artists (helped by the hard-working costume designer Anthony Tran.) Hoche is effective as sidekick Nhan and moving as Tong’s brother Khue. Paco Tolson is winning as the playwright, and adorable as a clueless American soldier at the camp trying to woo Tong.

Tolson’s other characters are American stereotypes. One is a “Hippie Dude,” whom Quang and Nhan meet on the road, and with whom they smoke dope. The hippie while stoned apologizes to Quang “for what we did to your country,” and tells him “I lost a brother over there.” This enrages Quang, who launches into a rap with the refrain:

“Yo, you lost a brotha
I lost my family
You lost a brotha
I lost my whole country.”

The stoned hippie dude, not even given a name, is such a caricature that this struck me as unfairly stacking the deck against his view of the Vietnam War. (Is the death of a brother really so insultingly inconsequential?)

At first, it also seems that Samantha Quan is called on to portray Tong’s mother Huong largely as a caricature of an overbearing parent.

But Huong gains greater depth as “Vietgone” progresses. And then in the last scene of the play,  the playwright interviews his now elderly father Quang (presumably in order to write this play), and the Vietnam War comes up again. “America should never have gotten involved,” the playwright says, and his father explodes – just as he exploded with the hippie dude. What Quang says about the Vietnam War is eloquent and deeply touching — and a perspective that I have never before seen on a New York stage. “Vietgone,“ I realized, is told from Quang’s perspective, not the playwright’s. (It is Quang, not the playwright, who is dismissive of the hippie dude.)  it is a perspective that forced me to examine my own. And isn’t that what theater is supposed to do?

“Vietgone” is comic and compassionate; overlong (by at least 15 minutes) — and overdue.


Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center
Written by Qui Nguyen
Directed by May Adrales
Scenic design by Tim Mackabee, costume design by Anthony Tran, lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design and original music by Shane Rettig, projection design by Jared Mezzocchi.
Cast: John Hoche, Jennifer Ikeda, Raymond Lee, Samantha Quan, Paco Tolson
Tickets: $90
Running time: two and a half hours, including a 15 minute intermission
Vietgone is scheduled to run through November 27, 2016

Under The Radar Festival to feature Swenson, Osnes in Loesser’s lost World War II musicals

osnesandswensonblueprintwaterwellpublic1Laura Osnes and Will Swenson will star in Frank Loesser’s “lost” World War II musicals on board the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, as part of the Public Theater’s 13th annual Under the Radar Festival. This is a decided departure for a festival known for showcasing experimental theater pieces from around the world. These will still be in abundance at the 2017 festival, running January 4 to 15, with work by artists from Belarus, France, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon, and the U.K.

Osnes (Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde) and Swenson (Hair) will perform in Waterway Theater Company’s “Blueprint Specials,” which are revivals of the musicals that the US Army commissioned in 1944 to boost American soldiers’ morale. They were created by such Broadway talent as composer Frank Loesser and choreographer Jose Limon, and have not been seen since then.  The performances will take place on the hangar deck of the Intrepid, a decommissioned battleship now docked permanently in the Hudson River.

Below is the entire schedule of Under the Radar shows, with links to the Public Theater’s descriptions of them.

THE FEVERThe Public Theater
Nikki Appino & Saori Tsukada (USA)
CLUB DIAMONDThe Public Theater
Belarus Free Theatre (Belarus/UK) 

NYU Tisch School of the Arts Shop Theatre

The Bengsons (USA)
HUNDRED DAYSThe Public Theater
Tania El Khoury (UK/Lebanon)
GARDENS SPEAKNYU Tisch School of the Arts Abe Burrows Theatre
Marga Gomez (USA)
The Public Theater
Manual Cinema (USA)
LULA DEL RAYThe Public Theater
Eko Nugroho and Wayang Bocor (Indonesia)
Philippe Quesne (France)
The Kitchen
Rimini Protokoll (Germany)
Keith A. Wallace & Deborah Stein (USA)
The Public Theater
Waterwell (USA)
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Champagne Jerry feat. Neal Medlyn (USA)
Jomama Jones (USA)
BLACK LIGHTUTR + Joe’s Pub: In Concert
Erin Markey (USA)
UTR + Joe’s Pub: In Concert
Becca Blackwell (USA)
INCOMING! THEY, THEMSELF AND SCHMERMThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
Ryan J. Haddad (USA)
INCOMING! HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?The Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
Ayesha Jordan + Charlotte Brathwaite (USA)
INCOMING! SHASTA GEAUX POPThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
New Saloon (USA)
INCOMING! MINOR CHARACTERThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
James Allister Sprang as GAZR (USA)
INCOMING! LIFE DOES NOT LIVEThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown

A Life Review: David Hyde Pierce Takes Shocking Stock

For the first half of Adam Bock’s “A Life” — before its life-changing coup de theatre — David Hyde Pierce as Nate sits on his Eames sofa and seems to be taking stock of his life. A gay New Yorker who works as a proofreader at an ad agency, he is still reeling from his latest breakup, and occasionally glances at his cell phone — “He keeps not calling me.” He holds up his astrological chart and explains it to us in some detail – a neighbor turned him on to astrology after he confessed to her “I’d lost faith in everything I’d ever learned.” He loves it, considers it a science, but also goes to group therapy to help make sense of his life because “astrology might be full of shit.” He tells us about his group sessions, and how the other members think he has a problem with intimacy.
“There has to be another way,” he says, and it’s apparent he is talking about his life as a whole.
We’ve more or less made our peace with “A Life” as a monologue, when the scene shifts, and Nate’s best friend Curtis (Brad Heberlee) joins him for an idle chat in the park while they casually comment on the hunks they eye jogging past.

And then something happens that I can’t talk about – I don’t want to spoil it. It’s safest to quote the promotional material, which characterizes his monologue as having questioned his place in the cosmos. “The answer he receives, when it comes, is shockingly obvious — and totally unpredictable.”

I would have loved for “A Life” to have been a play more worthy of attention leading up to the abrupt change in perspective. There is a meandering quality to Nate’s conversation that may well be intentional, but can come across as filler.  But all (or most) is forgiven by the end.

Director Anne Kauffman has a splendid track record in plays such as The Nether and Belleville and Detroit both of making the other-wordly seem ordinary and of investing the everyday with ineffable dread.  Her precise and pointed direction of “A Life” is aided immeasurably by her design team, especially scenic designer Laura Jellinek’s clever stagecraft and sound designer Mihail Fiksel’s half-amusing, half-horrifying ode to the sounds of the city. The supporting cast is spot-on. But it’s the charming, credible, comical and ultimately chilling performance of David Hyde Pierce that makes “A Life” memorable.

A Life
Playwrights Horizons
Written by Adam Bock
Directed by Anne Kauffman

Marinda Anderson — Jocelyn
Brad Heberlee — Curtis
Nedra McClyde — Allison
Lynne McCollough — Lori Martin
David Hyde Pierce — Nate Martin
Scenic Design: Laura Jellinek
Costume Design: Jessica Pabst
Lighting Design: Matt Frey
Sound Design: Mikhail Fiksel
Production Stage Manager: Erin Gioia Albrecht
Running time: About 80 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $59 to $99

“A Life” is scheduled to run through November 27, 2016

Hamilton, Hillary and Rocky Horror. The Week in New York Theater

It was one of those weeks when “theater” gets redefined in the post-modern media age, thanks to several events in a row:


Broadway for Hillary fundraiser, livestreamed


The third and final debate between Clinton and Trump

…and then the spoof of the debate on Saturday Night Live


Rocky Horror Show remake on Fox TV

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton’s America documentary, still available for viewing online

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, Joh Glover

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, Joh Glover

The Cherry Orchard

The Roundabout commissioned Stephen Karam, the author of the Tony-winning hit The Humans, to write a new adaptation, and hired Simon Godwin, the associate director of the UK’s National Theatre, to make his Broadway directorial debut.

Karam and Godwin strive to keep “Chekhov’s world intact” (as a program note puts it) but have it “refracted through the sensibilities of 21st century America.”…There are just too many fine, nuanced productions in memory for theatergoers to feel the need for an updated version, or to tolerate  one that, to put it charitably, could use more time to find the proper balance.

Full review of The Cherry Orchard

Corey Stoll and Rachel Weisz

Corey Stoll and Rachel Weisz


Of all the crazed, destructive, female characters that the stage has given us, Susan Traherne may be among the least interesting, at least as performed by Rachel Weisz…’Plenty’ is far more oblique and disjointed than some of Hare’s other work; the scenes feel like shorthand, and are not all in chronological order…’Plenty’ features a beautiful movie star, foul language, guns and gunshots, actual smoking, even both male and female nudity, and still ends up feeling dull.

Full review of Plenty

Nathan Lane and John Goodman

Nathan Lane and John Goodman

The Front Page

The best way to sum up the fourth Broadway revival of The Front Page, the 1928 play about Chicago newspapermen, is the way their ads do: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor….Robert Morse. The show’s appeal, in other words, rest largely in its star turns, which often feel like cameos…There is on exception…Through the alchemy of his barking brilliance, Nathan Lane turns the entire third act into more or less a one-man show

Full review of The Front Page

The Week in New York Theater News

Groundhog Day the musical in UK

It’s official: Groundhog Day, with songs by Tim Minchin (Matilda) and starring Andy Karl, is set to open April 17 at August Wilson Theater


Bandstand, a musical about a 1940’s swing band, starring Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, set to open April 26. (Theater to be determine)


Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey to star in Broadway revival of  John Guare’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation,” to open in April.


The American Theater Wing’s Henry Hewes Design Awards went this year to:



Canadians Say: Cheer Up Americans, You’re Great


Jersey Boys Drew Seeley Nick Dromard Matt Bogart Mark Ballas

Dancing With the Stars’ Mark Ballas made his Broadway debut this week as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys (second from left.) Show closes 1/15/17


Matt Doyle

Matt Doyle

The Tooting Arts Club production of Sondheim and Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd that opens Valentine’s Day at Barrow Street Theater, and will offer actual (though not human) pies for sale, has added American actors to the cast: Matt Doyle, Alex Finke, Betsy Morgan, and Brad Oscar.

Josh Groban and Denee Benton from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Josh Groban and Denee Benton from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Ars Nova theater battling commercial producer of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 for agreed-upon credit.

Simon McBurney in The Encounter

Simon McBurney in The Encounter

$40 digital lottery launched for The Encounter


The McKittrick (home of Sleep No More) presents the National Theater of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,Nov 16=Jan 8


The Front Page with Nathan Lane et al: Review, Pics

The best way to sum up the fourth Broadway revival of The Front Page, the 1928 play about Chicago newspapermen, is the way their ads do: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman,Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor….Robert Morse. The show’s appeal, in other words, rests largely in its star turns, which often feel like cameos…

Only one illustrious member of the large cast entirely escapes cameo status — Nathan Lane as Walter Burns, a scheming editor for whom no ploy is too low. Through the alchemy of his barking brilliance, Lane turns the entire third act into more or less a one-man show, everybody else transformed into his supporting players. But he doesn’t even appear on stage until the end of Act II.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Plenty with Rachel Weisz: Review, Pics

Of all the crazed, destructive, female characters that the stage has given us, Susan Traherne may be among the least interesting, at least as performed by Rachel Weisz in the Public Theater revival of Plenty, David Hare’s 1978 play about a woman who served in World War II and never recovered from it….

It counts as something of an odd accomplishment by director David Leveaux that his production of Plenty features a beautiful movie star, foul language, guns and gunshots, actual smoking, even both male and female nudity, and still ends up feeling dull.

Full review at DC Theatre SceneFull review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Watch Hamilton’s America Online

If you missed “Hamilton’s America” on the PBS TV series Great Performances, you can watch the documentary here on their website.


If much of the 82-minute documentary about the musical “Hamilton” is familiar, thanks to the book, Hamilton The Revolution (aka #Hamiltome) and innumerable interviews and Tweets, filmmaker Alex Horwitz trained his cameras on his former Wesleyan roommate Lin-Manuel Miranda  years before opening night. There are informal moments of Miranda thinking out loud about what he’s about to create. Miranda himself also interviews people who influenced him, including Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and rapper Nas.

But this is less a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the musical as it is a behind-the-hype look at the historical Alexander Hamilton.  There is no rehearsal footage at all. The creative team and the performers don’t talk much about the show. (That’s left to others, such as Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, who compares Miranda to Shakespeare, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who proclaims it “the best piece of art in any form I’ve ever seen.”) The “Hamilton” cast members talk history. Miranda makes an unintentionally pointed comment (in light of recent events), when he says about George Washington:

“I think the most extraordinary thing he did was step down from the presidency, ensuring that this American experiment would continue without him. By modeling a peaceful transition from president to president, he put us eons ahead of every other fledgling democracy on earth.”

There are interviews with historians, and with politicians U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a couple of former Secretaries of the Treasurer (Hamilton was the first Treasury Secretary: ‘I look at Alexander Hamilton as the patron saint of Wall Street,” says Henry Paulson.) We see the cast and creative team visiting historical sites, listening to talks by park rangers and other experts.

Still, there are enough tantalizing excerpts from the musical itself to remind those of us who have seen Hamilton how breathtaking and groundbreaking it is.




Rocky Horror Picture Show, Remade for Fox TV

rockyhorroronfoxForty-one years after The Rocky Horror Show ran for 45 performances on Broadway, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult movie that is still being shown in movie theaters at midnight, Fox TV has remade the parody science-fiction/horror/polymorphously perverse rock musical about a white bread,  newly engaged couple Brad and Janet who are lured into the horrors and pleasures in the castle of Dr. Frank-n-Furter, an alien from Transsexual, Transylvania and his motley entourage.

Unlike Grease, Fox’s previous effort at an event musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t live, and that made it less fun. There were also way too many commercial interruptions. Even live, of course, it could not have measured up to the experience of watching the show at midnight at the Waverly with members of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club who had seen the film hundreds of times and developed an elaborate interactive script that could be mistaken for a serious ritual if it weren’t so cheeky. Still, the music holds up in the remake, the  starry cast was exciting (if uneven) and it was fun taking the following screenshots, in more or less chronological order. Click on any to see it enlarged and read the dialogue/lyrics/caption.

Main Cast:
Laverne Cox (Dr. Frank-N-Furter)
Tim Curry (Criminologist Narrator)
Victoria Justice (Janet Weiss)
Ryan McCartan (Brad Majors)
Reeve Carney (Riff Raff)
Christina Milian (Magenta)
Annaleigh Ashford (Columbia)
Adam Lambert (Eddie)
Staz Nair (Rocky Horror)
Ben Vereen (Dr. Everett Scott)
Ivy Levan (Usherette)


“Science Fiction/Double Feature” – Usherette
“Dammit Janet” – Brad and Janet
“Over at the Frankenstein Place” – Brad, Janet and Riff-Raff
“Time Warp” – Riff-Raff, Magenta, Columbia, Narrator/Criminologist
“Sweet Transvestite” – Frank-N-Furter and Brad
“The Sword of Damocles” – Rocky
“I Can Make You a Man” – Frank-N-Furter
“Hot Patootie” – Eddie
“I Can Make You A Man (Reprise)- “Frank-N-Furter
“Touch A Touch A Touch A Touch Me” – Janet
“Once In Awhile” – Brad
“Eddie” – Dr. Scott
“Planet Schmanet Janet” – Frank-N-Furter
“Planet Hot Dog”- Frank-N-Furter
“Rose Tint My World” – Columbia, Rocky, Brad, Janet
“Don’t Dream It” – Frank N Furter
“Wild And Untamed Thing” – Frank N Furter
“I’m Going Home” – Frank N Furter
“Super Heroes” – Brad, Janet, Narrator/Criminologist
“Science Fiction/Double Feature (Reprise)” – Eddie and Usherette

The Cherry Orchard starring Diane Lane: review, pics

When Diane Lane, returning to Broadway after nearly four decades, enters on stage in the Roundabout’s ambitiously reinterpreted production of The Cherry Orchard, her Lubyov seems an impossibly glamorous lady returning after five years abroad to her cherished estate. But Lubyov’s life, we soon learn, is actually a mess, her past tragic, her future doomed.

…Surely recognizing some parallels with America’s current tensions, the Roundabout commissioned Stephen Karam, the author of the Tony-winning hit The Humans, to write a new adaptation, and hired Simon Godwin, the associate director of the UK’s National Theatre, to make his Broadway directorial debut.
Karam and Godwin strive to keep “Chekhov’s world intact” (as a program note puts it) but have it “refracted through the sensibilities of 21st century America.”

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the captions.

Broadway for Hillary: Watched live for free!


Lin-Manuel Miranda and Renee Elise Goldsberry sang a song from Hamilton, “The World Was Wide Enough” at Monday night’s Broadway for Hillary fundraiser at Broadway’s St. James Theater, rewritten especially for the occasion.

Joel Grey sang “Cabaret,” Josh Groban “Over the Rainbow,” Andrea McArdle sang “Tomorrow” in duet with Sarah Jessica Parker, who also sang “Been A Long Day” with her  husband Matthew Broderick and Victoria Clark.Angela Bassett recited Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman?” speech

“Our goal tonight is simple: We have to raise more money than Donald Trump lost in 1995,” MC Billy Crystal said at the evening’s outset. The 1,700 who attended bought more than $2.3 million in tickets for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, while many more watched for free, via live stream, as Julia Roberts,  Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Emily Blunt, Neil Patrick Harris, Helen Mirren et al declared themselves …with her.


Act I Screenshots:

Act II Screenshots:



“HILLARY TONIGHT” – Billy Crystal & Adult Chorus


“WILKOMMEN/CABARET” – Joel Grey & Sienna Miller

“BEEN A LONG DAY” – Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker & Victoria Clark

“WHILE I HAVE THE FLOOR”– Ayodele Casel (tap dance)

“BRAVE” – Sara Bareilles

“ORIGIN OF LOVE” – Neil Patrick Harris, Rebecca Naomi Jones & Stephen Trask (ballet dancers: Stella Abrera, Leanne Cope, Marcelo Gomes, Clifford Williams)

“NO ONE IS ALONE” Reprise – Emily Blunt

“CHILDREN WILL LISTEN” – Bernadette Peters & Children’s Chorus

“CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN” – Barbra Streisand & Jamie Fox (video)

“GET HAPPY / HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN”- Anne Hathaway & Kelli O’Hara

“FOR GOOD” – Stephen Schwartz & Kelli O’Hara

“IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE” – Jon Hamm & Jake Gyllenhaal

“TOMORROW” – Sarah Jessica Parker & Andrea McArdle

“OVER THE RAINBOW” – Josh Groban

“THE WORLD WAS WIDE ENOUGH” (rewrite from Hamilton) – Lin-Manuel Miranda & Renée Elise Goldsberry

“BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC” – Cynthia Erivo, Adult and Kids’ Chorus, full company


Alan Cumming

Angela Bassett

Ansel Elgort

Chelsea Clinton

Helen Mirren

Julia Roberts

Lena Dunham

Neil Patrick Harris

Sarah Jones

Sarah Paulson

Uzo Aduba