Company One’s production of You For Me For You, by local playwright Mia Chung, opens at the table of sisters Minjee and Junhee, where conversation revolves around each insisting the other eat the meager meal. "Revolves" is the word: the dialogue circles this theme until one feels trapped by the repetition. The sisters are North Korean, and their words communicate how trapped they are by oppressive deprivation.
When Junhee orchestrates their escape across the border, only she summons the momentum to go. Minjee remains with a hired smuggler in an abstract, empty landscape, where they argue issues of country, family, loyalty, and truth. Junhee reappears in America, where the stage is far from empty. Objects fill it with a senseless abundance. Mounds of shredded paper accompany Junhee’s bureaucratic boss’s attempt to manipulate her new employee. Junhee shops among a field of expensive shoes strewn across the stage. These objects express the "too muchness" that confronts immigrants, who are pressured, as my companion put it, to "stuff their eyes," to adopt consumerism. Even the speech of the many hyper Americans Junhee encounters, all played by Anna Waldron, feels like a flood. The audience doesn’t hear English, but the same rapid jumble Junhee hears, thanks to deft writing and acting in these scenes.
All the material "stuff" works to represent American culture, but it also chaotically clutters part of the stage. Its presence contrasts with Minjee and the smuggler’s timeless, empty borderland. (The two stage areas make me want to say Beckett Remix in the best way.) The solid objects also contrast with Junhee’s surreal sense of herself; she is so liminal that not even the gentle, down-to-earth personality of a new friend, played by Johnnie McQuarley, can ground her in America. Junhee can make leaps in this play that defy the time/place rules of traditional drama. And she makes a leap to resolve her relationship with her sister back in the totalitarian world of North Korea.
The play abandons Reality for Truth as experienced by the sisters, played with poignancy and edges by Jordan Clark as Junhee and Giselle Ty as Minjee. Those new to theater or used to more traditional plays might be a bit bewildered by the swiftness of the surreal elements. Although each scene is accessible, strung together they have an impressionistic quality. But the ideas and emotions are easy to absorb and hard to forget.
The cast, rounded out by Michael Tow as the smuggler, exhibit a variety of skills as traditional character development mixes with the performative precision of character types. They are all engaging as the level of realism shifts and lurches. If the play’s resolution is not as developed in event and emotion as it might be, they give it humanity. I would have liked more time to experience the realizations and decisions Junhee makes to end the play and their effect on Minjee. A small point in a play worth seeing for political and personal drama, as well as for the fascinating possibilities of stage writing and performance.
Company One’s production of You For Me For You by Mia Chung runs through Feb 16 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza.
Box Office: Phone: 617.933.8600
Walk-up: Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts,
527 Tremont St.
OR Boston University Theatre Box Office,
264 Huntington Ave
All images courtesy of Company One.