Vietgone by Qui Nguyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Qui Nguyen does it again, UGH!! I LOVED THIS PLAY!
Vietgone was so touching and poignant, and also simultaneously hilarious. And real. I really enjoyed reading it, and I’m pretty sure Qui is one of my favorite playwrights now. I LOVED the way he turns language on its head and subverts our understanding of “the outsider”, by allowing us to hear what Americans sound and look like in stereotypical translation. It was great hearing how I might sound speaking Vietnamese really poorly and to be caricaturized; it’s literally something we NEVER see in mass media, and I love Qui for that.
The rapping sequences also gave me LIFE.
I love how there is also an entire generational language happening here, which I LOVED. LOVED. Between Tong, Quang, Huong, and Nhan, we see them as fully-realized human beings living their lives in as much color and feeling and expression as possible. Then when we see the Playwright with Quang in the end (the Playwright being Quang’s son), we see Quang re-characterized from the Playwright’s perspective: as annoying, slightly out-of-touch, old-fashioned… everything we see immigrants characterized as on television, but not ever fully human. This juxtaposition of perspectives was so powerful to me; to realize that our parents lived lives that were just as real as our own is also super subversive in many ways.
The very real way that Qui expresses the horrors and losses experienced during war really resonated with me; my heart just broke at all the flashbacks and the very real ways in which these families were torn apart by the war. It really hurt too to see that Quang had to finally face the truth about not being able to go back to his family, and I felt both really tortured and uncomfortable with the not-knowing anything about his family’s fate. The only thing that gave even the slightest comfort about him not being able to go back was that his children never really knew him; so there wasn’t much of a loss for them there. But not knowing what happened to his wife, children, and family was pure torture. Same with Tong’s brother, Khue and Pham.
I guess we are supposed to get closure from the fact that Tong and Quang end up together, but there’s still a huge hole for me (in my heart) at the end of the play. I cried. At the same time, Qui does an amazing job of humanizing everyone, subverting stereotypes and expectations, and of giving everyone a deep and abiding motivation for who and how they are. Even Nhan, who doesn’t have much of a character arc, still serves a really important purpose to the overarching story. The themes about the American perspective on the Vietnam war hit home for me pretty hard, because Qui taps into a social consciousness that Americans (myself included) have never really interrogated; he brings some real talk to our armchair summary of the war, especially because we only talk about the Vietnam War as it pertained to the loss of American lives, glory, and legitimacy. But no one ever talks about what was really going on on the ground level, and Qui minces no words as he sets us completely straight.
There’s a lot going on here, and way more than I have time to parse out; there are SO many layers that are easier to discuss in person than on a written review. Sorry my thoughts are so all over the place, but WOOOOOW. This play really blew me away. So authentic, funny, grounding, and real. So SO good. Loved it.
Rock on, READ on,