(Photo by Jordan Kubat/SCR)
Written by Daniella Litvak
Back in 2015 I reviewed Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone when it debuted at South Coast Repertory. Vietgone told the story of how a young couple named Tong and Quang met and fell love while they were refugees at Fort Chafee in Arkansas, after the fall of Saigon. Poor Yella Rednecks picks up Tong and Quang’s story from where Vietgone left off.
Good news first — Tong and Quang married, had a son, and moved out of the refugee camp to the town of El Dorado, Arkansas. The bad news — racism and sexism make it impossible for Tong and Quang to eke out a living. Things only get worse when Quang receives a letter from the wife he left behind in Vietnam, setting off a devastating chain of events.
Do you need to see Vietgone before seeing Poor Yella Rednecks? Not necessarily. Audience members need not worry about whether it will be too difficult to follow the story because Poor Yella Rednecks discusses the events of Vietgone and gets us all up to speed on where the characters stand quite quickly. And if you have time to look through the program before the performance begins, the production notes provide some additional details.
Seeing Vietgone (or at least knowing a more detailed summary of it) does enrich the experience of watching Poor Yella Rednecks however. It is easier to understand why Quang acts and feels the way he does after receiving the letter from his first wife. Everything relating to Bobby is funnier if you’ve seen the first play.
Poor Yella Rednecks comes across as a bit more polished than Vietgone. The rapping doesn’t feel as out of place. It’s more consistently featured. The use of it functions more like the songs in a musical, but the transition from speaking to rapping is still rather jarring.
The show takes us to entirely new locations, but the moment I saw the stage I was immediately transported back into Nguyen’s universe. It’s bright. It’s vibrant. The set design uses the right details to tells us where we are.
Vietgone cast members Maureen Sebastian, Paco Tolson, and Samantha Quan reprise the roles of Tong, Playwright/Bobby, and Huong. (Tolson and Quan also take on several additional roles throughout the play). All three of them are as great in Poor Yella Rednecks as they were the last time I saw them perform.
While Quang was the protagonist of Vietgone, Tong takes center stage in Poor Yella Rednecks. One of the benefits of the perspective switch is there’s more stage time for the character of Huong, Tong’s mother. Huong continues to be a very funny character. This time she receives a more fully realized (and poignant) subplot.
Tim Chiou and Eugene Young take over the roles Quang and Nhan, respectively. They play other characters during the show as well. Both actors are good additions to the cast.
Poor Yella Rednecks is fun to watch. It’s hilarious and irreverent. The language and visuals illustrate Nguyen’s creativity and inventiveness. The fight sequences are among my favorite moments from the show. They’re entertaining to watch, but without simply being plopped in for the sake of spectacle. The fights are natural consequences of the story being told and more importantly, we understand why the characters must fight.
Is Poor Yella Rednecks the end of Tong and Quang’s story? I can’t say. I do know if Nguyen continues their story in another play, I’ll be excited to see it. If Poor Yella Rednecks is the final chapter, then I’m more than happy with how and where we leave Tong and Quang.
Note: This show features mature language.
March 30 – April 27, 2019
Story8Acting9.5Set & Design9.5Costumes9.5Entertainment8.5
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