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A CurtainUp Review
Wild Goose Dreams
By Jacob Horn
The atmosphere is evocative of a street market, or a graphic novel. It also speaks to the "noise," auditory and visual, of modern times. Once Hansol Jung's play, which also includes music composed by Paul Castles and Jongbin Jung, begins, it's clear that the digital world can be just as loud as the physical one.
Wild Goose Dreams is a story about connection in the information era—its possibilities as well as its limitations. Minsung (Peter Kim) is a "goose father," a South Korean man whose wife and child have moved to the United States for the daughter to go to school. (). As with many goose families,) the distance leads to emotional and cultural estrangement between the father and the rest of the family, leaving Minsung lonely and seeking connection online. While his daughter Heejin (Kendyl Ito) rebuffs him on Facebook, a dating website connects him with Nanhee (Michelle Krusiec), a North Korean defector.
Jung's play is inventively conceived and the Public's production, which is directed by Leigh Silverman and follows a run at La Jolla Playhouse, is cleverly staged. Writing across realities and using complex, highly choreographed overlays of dialogue, Jung has created a script that almost looks like it's written in code (and, in some cases where actors speak in binary code, it is). Her method of overlaying the digital onto the physical world is clever, and Silverman's realization of the intricate script is skillful.
While several moments feel reminiscent of Dear Evan Hansen (review), another work to grapple with the social impact of the digital age, the approach is in large part highly original. Messages, pop-ups, news updates, social notifications, and more come from a Greek-style chorus. Two members of the chorus, Lulu Fall and Joél Pérez, also serve as digital avatars for Nanhee and Minsung, offering a playful representation of the disconnect between how people act online and their true selves.
But with so much attention devoted to sorting through all the digital noise of this world, some of the underlying plot points become jumbled. Kim and Krusiec offer charming and appealing performances, yet the Minsung/Nanhee love story ends up feeling unevenly developed. Nanhee's struggle to connect with her father (Francis Jue, whose breadth is on full display here) becomes clouded in the complexities of dealing with a potentially dishonest broker. Minsung's ongoing dialogue with his family in the US is also spliced in throughout.
Such chaos is obviously part of the point for Jung, but the humanity and emotional charge of the play suffers in the process. All this comes to a head when the work reaches a conclusion that feels inevitable yet not fully earned, and that isn't treated with the weight that it requires.
That's not to deny Jung deserved credit for creatively tackling a social phenomenon that is relatively unknown (to Americans, at least), or to Silverman and the talented cast for staging it with precision. The play also distinguishes itself with a strong sense of cultural authenticity as it relies on local geography, trends, and other references from K-pop to the distinctive chirping of KakaoTalk, the dominant messaging app in South Korea.
Further transporting are the visual effects by Lillis Meeh, cleverly deployed throughout the production and complemented in places by Linda Cho's costumes.
The dialogue, meanwhile, is crafted to simultaneously present the story to an English-speaking audience while preserving linguistic distinctions that avoid Americanizing the characters. Though the Korean characters speak English on stage, the dialogue can have the quality of a translated subtitle, as if to remind us that they're really speaking Korean.
Inversely, when Minsung actually attempts to speak in English to his daughter, his speech becomes thickly accented and unsteady, reminding us about the language barrier that still exists and represents the growing distance between father and child. These are some of the high points of Kim's performance, showing the character at his most vulnerable and fragile.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that these moments are also some of the quietest and sparsest on stage. As they emphasize just how sad and how overwhelming Minsung's alienation from his family is, they have some of the deepest impact of any in the play. When it finds its heart, Wild Goose Dreams is well equipped to be deeply affecting. But when the chaos of its world drowns out its emotionality, the play falls victim to the same reality it critiques.
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Wild Goose Dreams
by Hansol Jung
Directed by Leigh Silverman
with Dan Domingues (Chorus), Lulu Fall (Digital Nanhee/Chorus), Kendyl Ito (Heejin/Chorus), Francis Jue (Father), Peter Kim (Guk Minsung), Michelle Krusiec (Yoo Nanhee), Jaygee Macapugay (Wife/Chorus), Joél Pérez (Digital Minsung/Chorus), Jamar Williams (Chorus), and Katrina Yaukey (Chorus)
Scenic Design: Clint Ramos
Costume Design: Linda Cho
Lighting Design: Keith Parham
Sound Design: Palmer Hefferan
Composer: Paul Castles
Korean Music Composer: Jongbin Jung
Music Supervisor: Charity Wicks
Movement Director: Yasmine Lee
Special Effects Designer: Lillis Meeh
Production Stage Manager: Melanie J. Lisby
Stage Manager: Janelle Caso
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
The Public Theater, Martinson Hall, 425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place)
Tickets: Full price tickets start at $55; (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org, or in person at the theater.
From 10/30/2018; opened 11/14/2018; closing 12/16/2018
Performance times: Tuesdays–Sundays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 pm, with an additional 1:30 pm performance on Wednesday, November 21 and no performance on Thursday, November 22
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 11/10/2018 performance
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