Monday, January 24, 2011
Saikong Yang, seated, and Dan Le in a scene from Katie Ka Vang's "WTF" at Mixed Blood Theatre.
For more than 150 years, the children of immigrants -- the first-born generation on U.S. soil -- have faced a dual challenge: fighting their new country's intolerance and resisting the legacy of their parents' homeland. Playwright Katie Ka Vang voices the experiences of Hmong-Americans within this context, with her new play "WTF," which Mu Performing Arts opened last weekend in Minneapolis.
Vang's story gives us the experience of True, a young woman depressed after her mother's death, and True's friend, Sunday, who is equally sad. Over the course of two hours and 45 minutes (including intermission) these two mopey souls hash through their personal demons and end up with a hopeful outcome. Side plots loop in True's brother, Rush, who has escaped the family nest by joining the military, and Sunday's sister, Hope, a bright student who sees her goal as nothing less than saving the world.
Vang has nestled trenchant points into her play, which is directed by Randy Reyes. "Where are the tools to live," True asks Sunday after Sunday's father has dragged him into an opium-deal fiasco. In other words, how do these kids learn not to react in the self-destructive ways of their parents while also respecting the older generation's culture? It is a cycle that must be broken with great care.
However, mundane dialogue and scenes that have barely a spark of purpose inflate "WTF" to epic proportions. Vang has created a pageant of sorts -- with dance, spoken-word and hip-hop moments that highlight performers -- rather than a tight drama. Perhaps that is her intention, but the result can wear out an audience.
Reyes' direction appears hamstrung by Vang's purpose: Sun Mee Chomet as True and Saikong Yang as Sunday take low-energy monotone approaches that illustrate their emotional exhaustion. In contrast, the younger characters -- Gaosong Vang as Hope and Mimo Xiong as a kid who pesters True at her office -- are bolts of electricity. Well and good, but when principal characters shuffle through a perpetual daze, the direction needs to quicken the pace.
Vang has good dramatic instincts. Daniel Sach Le has fun as a crusty furniture designer who employs Sunday. Billy Xiong gives Rush a soft-spoken sweetness, and Fres Thao's hip-hop breaks freshen the moment. And Vang's story significantly contributes to Hmong-American literature and expression. There is work to be done, but then isn't that always the case?
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299