WILD GOOSE DREAMS at the La Jolla Playhouse is a play that juxtaposes the familiar and the unfamiliar, the real and dreamlike. It’s a drama that is incredibly funny, it explores family dynamics by separating families, it deals with realities by augmenting it with fantastical elements, it talks about technology as a thing that connects and isolates, and it has a penguin keeps showing up unexpectedly.
It all starts with a bedtime story of an angel trapped on Earth, and her choice between staying with her family or getting her wings and flying back to the heavens. At the end of the tale the Father (Francis Jue) urges his kids to always choose flight if they have their chance.
The two main characters are Yoo Nanhee played by Yunjim Kim, and Gook Minsugng played by James Kyson. Nanhee is a woman who defected from North Korea looking for a better life. After four years she has established a life for herself with a job and an apartment, but she is missing her father (the one that opened the show) and yearns to know how those she left behind are faring.
Gook is a “Goose Father” – the South Korean term for a father who has stayed behind to work and send money to family who are living overseas to an English speaking country for education. He lives in a tiny dorm style apartment in order to save as much money as possible to send to his family.
They connect through internet, on a dating site where they both reveal that they are lonely and looking for companionship. They both miss the happiness that only being with family can provide.
This play’s reality is augmented by moments of the absurd, like when Nanhee’s anxieties inconveniently manifest an apparition of her father while she is lying in bed with Gook, or when a penguin suddenly appears in the most unexpected locations demanding his wings back.
She worries about her father, did she make the right choice, and is he alright? As a dad missing his daughter while he works to ensure her a better future, Gook assures Nahhee “A father never wants his wings back.”
Their relationship is often interrupted by assumptions and misunderstanding of the different cultures (South Korea, North Korea, and America), gunshots, and politics. Gook is trying to desperately talk to his daughter or his wife in Connecticut and finds it hard to connect with their busy lives in the US. As they learn to enjoy each other’s company, it becomes more pronounced that the family that they are missing has deeply impacted how they view themselves, the world, and their relationship. Without being present in the moment with the other person, it is just as lonely as if you are in your room with the computer.
Yunjin Kim as Nanhee (you may recognize from TV’s LOST) brings a sense of someone untethered by her longing for those she left behind. Yet when she is with Gook she finds some firmer footing and you can begin to see the person she is when not divided by worry.
James Kyson as Gook (Ando from HEROES anyone?) is very charming in his openness, and direct with how he feels about his situation; he is lonely, he does miss his family, and he does want to be a part of a relationship again. There is a bit of cluelessness both in the relationship with Nanhee and when trying to deal with his daughter who is seemingly as foreign to him as the country she is in that makes him both sad and endearing.
Francis Jue is a delight as the Nanhee’s Father, as he is both plays up the humor and absurdity of an apparition of a father. From the opening fable he tells, to the way he interacts with her as an apparition it is easy to see why Nanhee misses his presence.
The chorus fills in various roles, but they also exemplify the ubiquitousness of the constant noise that the internet provides. As the ads, alerts, and video suggestions they personify the noise that keeps you logged in and distracted.
For a show that has technology as its centerpiece, there is no technology that you’ll see on stage. The internet, the messages, and even the emojis are all acted out by the chorus. There is nothing funnier, or highlights the absurd better than hearing them describe each emoji as it gets typed out “smiley face with bulging hearts for eyes, thumbs up, thumbs up.”
It highlights the double edged sword that the internet can provide; you can meet and connect with people from all over the world, but you are isolating yourself from the real world for the digital world that then can make your isolation feel that much more pronounced.
Some standouts from the chorus include Julian Chi and Carolyn Agan as the physical manifestations of Nahee and Gook’s internet interactions, as well as Samantha Wang as Gook’s estranged teenager daughter.
The set design by Wilson Chin is very clean and clear, with just wood flooring and a small river of water separating the stage from the audience; allowing for plenty of room for the cast to fill the space as needed. Highlighted by Keith Parham’s lighting, they work in harmony to move from reality to virtual life and back again.
At close to two hours, this play does not have an intermission, but it is direction by Leigh Silverman helps it keep its momentum as it never goes for the conventional choice and opts instead for the innovative and interesting. As the play takes a darker turn in the final third it does lose some steam, but over all this is a highly entertaining night at the theatre.
WILD GOOSE DREAMS is highly imaginative, funny and sad, and a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre. Playing through October 1st at the La Jolla Playhouse tickets and show time information can be found at www.lajollaplayhouse.org