Clint Ramos’ colorful but distracting set in red and blue is covered in posters, photographs and advertising which continues around the audience throughout the four walls of the theater. Seven actors listed as Chorus members in the program voice the slogans, advertising and emails of the hero and heroine’s internet with Lulu Fall and Joél Peréz voicing the couple’s own personal accounts. The language that the couple converse in attempts to approximate Korean speech while at the same time making it clear that South Korean and North Korean have developed differently in the last 70 years of partition and their humor is not the same.
Both Guk Minsung (Peter Kim) and Yoo Nanhee (Michelle Kursiec) are lonely among Seoul’s almost ten million people. Having sent his wife and children to America for his daughter’s education seven years earlier, he is known as a Goose Father in Korean slang, and she has not connected with anyone in the four years since her arduous defection to the South. They meet on a dating web site called Love Genie and arrange for a first date.
Things do not go that well: Minsung’s phone keeps ringing as his wife in Fairfield, Connecticut attempts to reach him, and she, wracked by guilt for leaving her family, thinks she sees her father (Francis Jue) sitting in whatever room she is in calling for her to come back. Their affair blossoms into something more while Minsung has trouble reaching his family in America and Nanhee pays someone to smuggle a phone to her father as they both continue to send most of their salaries to their families. The play takes a dramatic turn when Minsung receives some bad news from his wife, and Nanhee thinks she should return to North Korea and her father.
While the language Minsung and Nanhee converse in sounds to American ears like Pidgin English even if it approximates syntax of the Korean language, the tonal shifts from comic to tragic skew the play. The constant interruptions by the Chorus of Internet voices get in the way of the relationship of the couple. However, Nanhee’s guilt is made visual in dreams where she sees the North Korean army as marching penguins. We ultimately hear from Minsung’s wife (Jaygee Macapugay) and daughter Heejin (Kendyl Ito) who put in appearances almost at the end of the play, but they never become real as we know so little about them.
Peter Kim and Michelle Krusiec beautifully capture the awkwardness of a blind date, particularly of people from different cultures. Kim’s self-effacing quality and Krusiec’s paranoia about her self-worth lead to a great deal of humor as well as misunderstandings. As Nanhee’s father still in the North, Francis Jue is a very wry figure making jokes that are both facetious and pointed. Lulu Fall and Joél Peréz as the voice of Minsung and Nanhee’s internet accounts are continually cheerful in the way of electronic voices. While Kendyl Ito as Minsung’s teenage daughter has all the sarcasm and alienation of modern youth, Jaygee Macapugay as his wife is, on the other hand, almost devoid of emotion.
Keith Parham’s lighting is almost another character, both indicating scene changes and Internet exchanges, while Ramos’ runways through the audience are used at various times for the Chorus. The costumes by Linda Cho depict contemporary people as well as fantasy figures. Korean music composer Jongbin Jung, American composer Paul Castles and sound designer Palmer Hefferan add appreciably to the authentic sounding Asian atmosphere of the play.
In offering a window on a world most New York theatergoers know little about, Hansol Jung’s Wild Goose Dreams is a fascinating look at Korean culture. On the other hand, what appears to be a Korean obsession with the Internet and smartphones often becomes tedious as it goes on so long without bringing us much that is new. Leigh Silverman’s busy production creates a world of its own but is often overwhelming rather than enveloping. The Public Theater staging, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse, may be of more interest to Millennials addicted to their electronic devices than the rest of the theatergoing public. However, this may be the trend of the future and older theatergoers may just have to get used to it.
Wild Goose Dreams (through December 16, 2018)
The Public Theater, in a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse
Martinson Hall, 425 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission