The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G

by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Robert Ross Parker
Featuring Niemah Djourabchi and Temar Underwood
Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 38 Commerce Street
February 14, 2012 — March 4, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
February 14, 2012

The playwriting exercise of crafting a scene or a sequence, stopping the action, returning to the story from another angle, revamping and repeating, is not new.  The strategy utilized by Agent G playwright Qui Nguyen to include himself as the character playwright on stage who interacts with his created fictionalized characters is not new.  What Qui Nguyen plays with here, in words, situations, combat choreography and interpolated filmed sequences, is intercultural memory, family legacies, constructing life out of horrific circumstances and living to tell the tale.  And in this case he tells that tale in many forms from the most abstracted and complex to the spare format of stand up confessional at a microphone in one.  Delightfully.

This same playwright crafted She Kills Monstersa story of discovery and some measure of revenge, of a grieving slightly guilty sister who seeks understanding through the Dungeons and Dragons playbook left by a younger sibling she hardly knew. Here: action heroes come from behind posts, Vietnamese soldiers emerge from behind greenery, hand to hand combat is choreographed, slightly pornographic imagery recurs, and we watch as the main play-within-a-play character Hung (Neimah Djourabchi) returns to Viet Nam with his girlfriend Molly (Bonnie Sherman) 10 years after emigrating to the United States and landing in Arkansas. In Saigon the couple encounter San (Brooke Ishibashi), the daughter of people who knew Hung’s parents (or so she says), and various other complications and revisions, as the actors portraying the actors portraying these characters step in and out, comment upon, and shift their identities. The playwright himself is on stage as Qui (Temar Underwood), and at times playwright David Henry Hwang is similarly actor portrayed (by Jon Hoche, who also takes on a number of other characters).

The core of the Viet Nam to United States immigration story of Hung (or of Qui’s relative) involves boats and poverty and dire situations and deaths along the way.  The possible truth of the family lore, the story of a cousin of the playwright, is finally shared on a bare stage, shorn of projections and fight choreography and sound design and action hero shadow figures, uttered by actor-Qui into a stand-up’s microphone, center stage, in one, starkly lit.

This five-person cast takes on a raft of characters, some unnamed, some projected only, some that dart in and out of shadows.  Sound design (Shane Rettig) and set/light design (Nick Francone) evoke 1960s detective movies and at times 1940s noir.  The ride is a wonder, the choreography a delight.  And have no fear — playwright Hwang makes an appearance on film by the play’s end.  And woven into all of the genre play there is human truth.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 17, 2012)

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