Held Close and Buried Deep: Vietgone Arrives at A.C.T.

By Taylor Steinbeck

The Strand Theater is ready to rock. Playwright Qui Nguyen’s hip-hop inspired, action-packed  comedy Vietgone has arrived at A.C.T. At the show’s first rehearsal, director Jaime Castañeda introduced the play to an enthusiastic room of actors, staff members, and donors, calling Vietgone “raw, unbridled theater.” “I'm always amazed when I go to a rock concert and there’s this certain level of excitement in the audience that theater is rarely able to capture,” says Castañeda. “I feel like Vietgone is one of those special stories that has music that feels alive and exciting.”

Director Jaime Castañeda at the first rehearsal for A.C.T.'s production of Vietgone.
Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
Vietgone tells the story of how Nguyen’s parents met and fell in love at a refugee camp in Arkansas after fleeing their war-torn country of Vietnam. Made up of an entirely Asian American cast, Vietgone not only brings Asian representation to the stage, but also takes on some close-to-home issues. “The way Qui’s writing debunks and flips stereotypes is hella dope,” says Castañeda. “He executes it with such intelligence and cutting wit, which is a tricky thing to do.”

Composer Shammy Dee at the first rehearsal for 
A.C.T.'s production of VietgonePhoto by Elspeth Sweatman.
Through hip-hop’s versatile styles, the music of Vietgone will reflect both the 1970s setting of the play as well as its contemporary dialogue. “Hip-hop is a very complex musical art form,” says Castañeda. “When hip-hop first started, they were sampling records from the ’60s and ’70s, so a lot of the instrumentation that you’ll hear in the show calls back to ’60s and ’70s sounds. It still feels contemporary, but some of the songs will have an older vibe to them.” Composer Shammy Dee debuted two of his originally scored songs for the room, which were received with smiles and head bobs. He explained that he and Castañeda wanted the music to support the storytelling. “Some songs are more expositional and others are the characters’ internal monologues,” says Shammy Dee, “We wanted to make the music as simple as possible while still making sure it feels full of emotion.”

Vietgone is a memory play,” says Castañeda, “but it’s also not really a memory play because it’s not Qui’s memory. He’s making this shit up. The stories our parents tell us are only pieces of what they can remember from 30 years ago. And for many cultures, our parents don’t want to tell us what happened before we were born. These stories are held close and buried deep. This play is an exploration of what happens if we were to imagine our parents young, wildly in love, and attacking each other’s faces. We’re going to stage that version of the story.”

begins at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater February 21 and runs through April 22. Click here to purchase tickets.

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