Monday, August 6, 2018

I'm Addicted to Theater Mu's Latest Show

When is the last time you saw a show authored by a local playwright? 

Photo courtesy of Theater Mu

How about a local female playwright?

How about a local Hmong female playwright?

I'm with you - Theater Mu's latest world premiere was a first for me too, and if the fun production I saw is any indication, I need to seek out more of May Lee-Yang's work ASAP.

Friday saw the world premiere of The Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity (KDAGLYV), a new work commissioned by Theater Mu. It was exactly what I needed to see that night and has all of the hallmarks of my favorite romantic comedies: it's witty, wry, wise, and totally charming.

Photo by Rich Ryan

KDAGLYV tells the story of Gao Hlee, an almost-30 year old personality coach who dreams of finding her partner and starting a family; the problem is that between her workaholism and addiction to Korean dramas, she has almost no time to actually date anyone, and the prospects seem limited. Once Gao begins working for Benedict, a wealthy CEO of a Korean company recently transplanted to Minnesota to build his family's business in the Midwest, everything changes. Gao's blunt
American style captivates Benedict, who undergoes a radical change from his frigid traditional persona. Benedict's right hand man, Secretary Kim, finds a true community in the U.S. and is liberated from the strict role he acquired in Korea, thanks to Gao's best friend Z. Gao's mother illuminates the life of a Hmong immigrant in the U.S.; Benedict's mother Madame Song gets the ultimate ghostly comeuppance (I can't say more, you have to see it to understand - but it's awesome); and Gao's cousin Tou Mong is left alone in his cause for Hmong men's rights.

Photo by Rich Ryan
There's so much more happening in KDAGLYV than that speedy overview can share, but suffice it to say: this show is just so fun! I don't know enough about Hmong life or the life of Asian Americans in Minnesota, and I learned so much from the dialogue between these characters. I'm just beginning to venture into the world of Korean dramas, and the cameos from various Korean drama shows throughout the play were hilarious and really helped lighten the mood. There's some magical realism thanks to the presence of strategic ghosts, and overall I found KDAGLYV to be a totally fresh, unique story that had me invested from the very beginning.

Photo by Rich Ryan

Part of my enjoyment was from the terrific young cast, almost all of whom are totally new-to-me actors. Dexieng Yang is wonderful as Gao Hlee, with a bubbly yet direct quality that reminds me of Reese Witherspoon's demeanor. Brian Kim leads Benedict's character through a radical transition with ease, and he and Yang have just the right kind of chaste chemistry this story needs (and he sings a wicked karaoke number). Clay Man Soo is utterly charming as Secretary Kim, and his youthful naivete is a great foil to Khadija Siddiqui's tough demeanor as the no-bullshit Z. Katie Bradley is delightfully evil as Benedict's exacting mother Madame Song, and Phasoua Vang has a warm, direct delivery as Gao's mother that reminds me of many other real-life immigrant mothers I know.

Photo by Rich Ryan

Like many of my favorite sets from Theater Mu, this one is simple but has clever blocking that always tells you where you're at and provides occasional surprises. Most of the scenic design, by Sarah Brandner, involves different sized boxes arranged to indicate cars, a bar, or office furnishings. Simple but evocative props (by Abbee Warmboe) like steering wheel give us all we need to follow the action. Samantha Fromm Haddow's costume design is classy and colorful, with each character looking sharply dressed throughout. And the lighting and sound design (by Karin Olson and Matthew Vichlach, respectively) provides just enough magic for us to be entranced by Gao and Benedict's unlikely love story.

Photo by Rich Ryan

The Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity is just the kind of fresh, interesting new stories that I love to see on stage (and that Theater Mu does so well). It's once again proof that not everything needs to have a giant budget and shiny accouterments to be worthy of watching. Like any brand-new work there are some kinks here, but I wholeheartedly enjoyed myself, and I'm so glad that KDAGLYV exists. May Lee-Yang is an exciting new voice in the playwright world, and I can't wait to see what she dreams up next. In the meantime, I'd love for Netflix to pick up this script and bring it as a serialized show to televisions everywhere - I'd binge the heck out of it. Please stop by Park Square Theatre to see this delicious new play before it closes on August 19; click here for more information or to buy tickets.