Geva Theater Center
Scheduled Opening: May 9, 2020
Postponed due to Covid-19
Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams - Scenic Design
Nicole Wee - Costume Design
Seth Reiser - Lighting Design
Daniel Perelstein - Sound Design
Katherine Freer - Projection Design
Pirronne Yousefzadeh - Director
Nicole Wee: When I started working on Vietgone I found myself trying to explain the project to a friend. "It takes place during the Vietnamese War," I said. He replied, "In Vietnam I think they just call that The War." It's that shift of focus, from the eyes of the American to that of the Vietnamese that I wanted to highlight in the costume design. The American picture of the war is of our soldiers in the foreground, active heroes against a backdrop of generic Vietnamese extras caught in a cycle of grief and misery. In Vietgone, the background is the foreground. The bit player the protagonist, as fully alive and human as any American hero; which by the end of the play is exactly what our characters are. To that end, I tried to make choices that would engage the reality of what they were experiencing while giving them the star treatment. Much as Qui Nguyen does with his text and its relationship to pop culture, we wanted to filter this world through the gloss of a Hollywood rom com. Ours is a world of color and pattern, of grooviness. These people fight and fuck and fall in love. They crack wise with a biting wit, they have both swagger and style. They are modern and contemporary to their time, and they experience the full range of human emotion with all the joy and sorrow that entails. At the end of the play the lens refocuses back to a Western gaze. The gloss fades away and we see the characters as they might appear on the street--drabber, humble and mundane, far too easily dismissed. You'd never know what adventures they'd had, what stories they could tell if only you cared to ask.
A note on the presence and absence of Vietnamese dress in the design: Initially I was struck by how Nguyen had very much created an Asian American story. It's definitely written with an awareness that the audience was likely to be comprised of more non-Vietnamese than Vietnamese. By giving the characters an American pop hero's journey, I believe that Nguyen is also deliberately denying the audience the gratification of an exotic cultural pageant and the historicity that often gets read into that. He maps American pop cultural tropes onto Vietnamese bodies and thus collapses the distance between the audience and the people onstage. As such, my first impulse was to not include any instances of traditional Vietnamese clothing. Not only does that feel in line with what Nguyen wrote, it's also true that by the 1970s Western dress was common in Asia and had been for a long time. However when I was sifting through photos of Saigon before the fall, I was taken by the number of young women that I saw dressed in incredibly stylish interpretations of ao dai that were directly in conversation with what was happening in Western fashion. As a designer I am very interested in the notion of non-Western traditional dress as a living, evolving, contemporary thing. This made me reconsider what to do with Thu, the wife Quang leaves behind. Pirronne and I had always wanted her to be as just viable a romantic option as Tong, never less than. I became interested in the idea of dressing her in one of these 1970s ao dai as an opportunity to present a different way of being a modern woman. We never had the chance to finish the conversation so I couldn't tell you if this incarnation of her would have made it to the stage. She remains a question unanswered like so many others in the design.