Vietgone closes today at MTC, but, nevertheless, I thought it was important to write about it. It is about the Vietnam War, yes, but it is also an insanely timely moment in American history to be remembering how the Vietnamese refugees who were relocated to America were treated.
First, let me address the pink elephant in the room, the rapping. I wish all of the rapping had been turned into monologues, but it’s there and it’s reminiscent of Hamilton and there’s nothing that Vietgone or we, the people who saw Vietgone, can do about it. I will just say that it came off as a little cheesy.
Anyways, the play opens up with Paco Tolson as the playwright, Qui Nguyen, explaining how the story is about how two Vietnamese refugees met in America after the Vietnam War, and no, no, no they’re definitely and totally not based on his parents. He explained how the refugees would talk (kinda ghetto), how the elderly Asians would talk (stereotypically), and how the Americans would talk (basically southern accents saying nonsensical words).
Vietgone was told nonlinearly, skipping back and forth between the present day in refugee camps and back in Vietnam before it fell. We needed to be reminded just how much the Vietnamese refugees were hated and distrusted when they got here. Their faces were the faces of the enemy. (Kind of like today with Syrian refugees.)
Quang (Raymond Lee) is a refugee who wants to get back to Vietnam to continue fighting (he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam who was trained in America) and get back to his family who was left there during the fall is Saigon. He meets Huong (Samantha Quan), an elderly Vietnamese lady who was forced to leave Vietnam when her daughter Tong (Jennifer Ikeda) had an extra ticket (perks of working at the embassy) in one of the refugee camps in Arkansas. Huong is over America with no desire to learn English and upon meeting Quang, plans to make her escape with him, to the disbelief of her daughter.
Obviously, Quang and Tong meet and fall in love, eventually, to both of their dismays. Jon Hoche, who plays a friend of Quang’s, convinces him that he needs to just let his family in Vietnam mourn him because he doesn’t know if they’re even alive and when he steps off the boat, he will be immediately arrested and detained for being an American-trained pilot. The two eventually marry, work really hard to make a life for themselves in America, and give birth to the playwright.
The final scene really brought everything together. It’s between the playwright and his father and he’s still asking him about the war, while at the same time dismissing it, saying that American had no business getting involved. His father looses his temper and dresses down his son, telling him that the only reason either of them are alive is because the Americans got involved. It really makes an American, and we so easily dismiss the war, rethink their opinions on the Vietnam War.
This was the perfect show to see before the upcoming revival of Miss Saigon, rapping or not. The cast was fantastic and versatile, with some playing a half-dozen characters. I hope Vietgone has a second life somewhere. It deserves it.