We’ve had plays about different minorities. Now there is a new play dealing with Vietnamese immigrants. “Vietgone,” written by Qui Nguyen, is especially creative, a mix of uninhibited comedy and sentimental seriousness. It is often wildly entertaining, and yet the play provokes thought about the plight of those who left Vietnam during the infamous war, but while adjusting to life in the United States still long for families left behind.
In this Manhattan Theatre Club production, in association with South Coast Repertory, five talented cast members are aided by the excellent scenic design by Tim Mackabee, plus smart lighting and scenic projections that widen the scope of what we see on stage. There are shifts back and forth in time to flesh out the story, which spans from 1975 to the present.
It is mainly the humor that defines this take on the subject, with rap sequences, slapstick and jokes about sex. Jennifer Ikeda is a delight as Tong, a woman of 30 who who makes no bones about being horny and is forward as a seducer when she feels the need, although even when she seduces a guy she likes, she insists she doesn’t want anything permanent. Such a portrait is unusual, to say the least, and Ikeda, saucy, flirtatious, pouty and fascinating, flaunts her sexual appetites despite her comically vigilant mother.
The leading man is appealing Raymond Lee as Quang, who as a pilot escaped Saigon while rescuing refugees in his helicopter. He left a wife and children there, and although he has fallen in love with Tong, wants to bike across country from to the West Coast where he can catch transportation to Guam and then make it home. In a strong, argumentative scene his his buddy warns him that he would face death or prison.
The Quang-Tong relationship is at the heart of the story, but so much else is going on, much of it hilarious, with talented cast members Jon Hoche, Samantha Quan and Paco Tolson turning up in a variety of roles, making it seem as if the cast is much larger than it is.
“Vietgone” director May Adrales accents its comically mischievous edge as well as the serious side. Some cutting might be wise and there are dull spots here and there. But deep feelings effectively burst forth, as when Quang resents an American hipster sounding off against America’s involvement in Vietnam because Quang feels that nobody, even an opponent of the war who has lost a brother, can feel the loss of family that he has experienced. It is an unusual take on the subject, all the more so for being expressed in rap.
Although you’ll find plenty to laugh at in viewing the free-spirited humor exploding in the show, you also may also leave aware of what so many Vietnamese have gone through in trying to establish new lives. At New York City Center, Stage I, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed October 31, 2016.