The Review: The Public Theater’s Wild Goose Dreams
Surrounding by a Korean collage of neon letters and illuminated light box poster art, an older gentleman, played by the compelling and engaging Francis Jue (Public’s Hamlet) tells us a fairy tale filled with wonderment and sneaky sneaky sneaky joy. It starts with “once upon a time, there was an angel“, and the rest flies forward into a strongly envisioned metaphor of connection and escapist freedom. The story asks whether, if given wings, would someone angelic choose family over the idea of flight and freedom. Taking into account that Hansol Jung’s compelling new play, Wild Goose Dreams takes place near the border that separates North and South Korea, survivor guilt, shame, and a deep sense of compassion aren’t too far away from that chilly river where the naked angel stands quietly looking for rescue or a return.
The beginning, as directed with theatrical inventiveness by Leigh Silverman (Vineyard/Minetta Lane’s Harry Clarke), the disconnection and the burdens of stress created by separated families, even if by financial choice, gets played out to perfection amongst a background sing-song of “10011001001“. Formulated and coded on the dynamic stage, designed impressively by Clint Ramos (Broadway’s Once on This Island) of The Public Theater, a chorus of computer generated responses and directives emulate outwards giving voice to the crowded complications of online communication and screen activity. It’s pretty genius, thanks to sound designer Palmer Hefferan (MCC’s Charm), composer Paul Castles (NOVA’s Little Deaths), and movement director Yasmine Lee (Broadway’s Harry Potter…, Curious Incident…), that the structure of disconnection plays out in such an addictive cacophony of surfing, loading and deleting. That first scene sets up an idea with stylized ease, although it starts to wear itself out as it goes on and on, trying our patience with an already felt experience. I was anxious to log off, if this jabber kept up for much longer. It’s hard enough dealing with this technology and disconnected pretend engagement in our day-to-day, let alone it taking over the theatre, my escape from all that is stupid about our smart iPhone world.
But finally, thank God, Love’s Genie makes it way onstage and moves this piece forward. Accepted and loaded in the humanized form by the impressive Lulu Fall (ATC’s This Ain’t No Disco) and Joél Pérez (Public’s Oedipus El Rey), the two are the female and male directives within a dating application, trying to bring the lost and lonely souls together. Yoo Nanhee, played solidly, although slightly coolly by Michelle Krushiec (Signature’s Kung Fu), a North Korean defector, is in need of some interactive experience, rather than just existing to buy coffee and juice for her boss. And on the other side, desperate but insanely optimistic, there is a married South Korean man, Guk Minsung, played with a layered complexity and childlike adorableness by Peter Kim (Damon Cardasis’ film “Saturday Church“), whose life as a ‘goose father‘ is as sad of an existence as one can imagine behind a smiling face. A ‘Goose Father‘ is a South Korean man who “nobly stays home while his wife and daughter seek a better life in America. He sends every penny he earns to the USA so his daughter can acquire an English-speaking education“. In return, unfortunately, Minsung finds himself deeply lonely, sad, and in dire need. But somewhere deep inside that loneliness, he is brought, courtesy of Love’s Genie into the orbit of Nanhee, the young defector. And the rest should be the start of a romantic musical, but the playwright has a different plan in store, one that, unfortunately meanders around all sorts of penguin dreams of lost wings, sometimes finding the humanity, but more often than not, like the dating apps themselves, gets lost in the transition.
Playwright Jung (Cardboard Piano), while doing an excellent job in the quiet moments of the struggle to find meaning in the modern-day connection, loses herself in Wild Goose Dreams‘ overly conscious cleverness. Only in Minsung’s desperate pleas for salvation do we find truth and playful authenticity. Nanhee tries to discover the meaning behind her visitations but her emotionality doesn’t fluctuate to the same degree as the circumstances surround her situation and the trials she must go through to find understanding in the penguin’s hysteria. The costumes by Linda Cho (Encores’ Grand Hotel) lighting Keith Parham (2ST’s Man from Nebraska), alongside the cultural dynamics courtesy of Korean music composer Jongbin Jung, with an assist from music supervisor Charity Wicks (Broadway’s Come From Away), do a fantastic job creating context and subversive understanding, but for the stakes being so high, Krusiec’s Nanhee seems as inspired as we are to be fully engaged emotionally in the production. It’s a grand spectacle and some YouTube fun, even when drenched with sadness and loneliness, that create an enjoyable dive into the modern world of emotional engagement and disconnection, but the overall effect leaves you as satisfied as a fine internet date that you know, in the long-term, will be forgotten quickly.