Tuesday, March 1, 2016

'You For Me' Is For Us All

Mu's latest production sheds a welcome new light on the refugee experience

Photo courtesy of Mu Performing Arts.
And what a welcome light it is. It's amazing how easily media can overwhelm a conversation, and the current state of refugees is no different. One would assume that the only refugees out there are from the Middle East; while there are many, and their needs are extreme, refugees are constantly entering countries around the world fleeing oppressive governments. One such place is North Korea.

You For Me For You tells the story of two sisters who attempt, at different times, to leave North Korea. The youngest, Junhee, is the impetus for the initial attempt; while she manages to escape, her sister Minhee does not. Junhee travels to America, where she works to save money and gain access to as many American resources as possible in order to return to North Korea to help her sister. Minhee travels through a magical realist period, where she encounters various elements of North Korean society in a fantastic way that allows her to realize the truth and the danger of the society she lives in. Junhee manages to return for her sister, but the price in order to get her out is too high for them to live together again.
Photo courtesy of Mu Performing Arts. 
You For Me For You evokes a feeling much akin to Pan's Labrynth, in which the fantasy of magical realism and the strange imagery it provides somehow makes the horror of a real experience feel more true. You can't help but bleed for Minhee, who does everything she can to survive and never seems to catch a break. Part of this is due to a sympathetic performance by Sun Mee Chomet, who perfectly depicts the character's extremely humble attitude. As her sister Junhee, Audrey Park is a fiery pleasure, whose strength is integral to the plot's success. Kurt Kwan is always engaging as the ever-shifting characters encountered in Minhee's fantasy, particularly in a portrayal of a man who makes music out of rice. He has a quiet strength, and it gives the show gravitas.
Photo courtesy of Mu Performing Arts. 
The ensemble cast is also enjoyable. JuCoby Johnson is quietly charming as Junhee's almost-love Wade, and he gives her story a solid grounding in American culture and our double standards. Sarah Richardson does a fabulous job of depicting what it is like to be in a country you know nothing of, particularly in language; her garbled passes through "English" shortly after Junhee arrives in America are impossible to understand and bravely force the audience into a new arrival's shoes.

It also bears special noting that this is the first time that this show has been performed using actual Koreans for actors. In addition to being a telling statement of the current state of diverse casting, it's a feature that lends this performance real gravitas.
Photo courtesy of Mu Performing Arts. 
The set is gorgeous in this show and full of strength. It immediately evokes the solemn feeling of a Korean temple, and thanks to innovative elements such as interlocking cubes with different designs on each side, or gorgeous lighting over a simple "well," is much more complex than it seems at first sight. This is the Swiss army knife of production design; every element has multiple purposes and can be customized for the scene. It adds a lot to the story.
Photo courtesy of Mu Performing Arts. 
You For Me For You continues a completely original and completely enchanting season by Mu Performing Arts. It's a wonderful show full of heart that reframes the argument for assisting refugees, and features some fairy tale style fantasy besides. It's a great show and totally worth a visit at the Guthrie before it closes on March 6 - make sure you check it out by clicking on this link.