‘Wild Goose Dreams’ – Written by Hansol Jung. Directed by Seonjae Kim; Scenic Design by Crystal Tiala; Costume Design by Machel Ross; Lighting Design by Kathleen Zhou; Sound Design by George Cooke. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage at The Calderwood Pavillion, Boston through April 8.
By Shelley A. Sackett
On its surface, ‘Wild Goose Dreams,’ lays out parallel tales of migration, sacrifice, and dreams. To fully appreciate Hansol Jung’s brilliant script and Seonjae Kim’s spot-on direction, a little background is helpful. Geese migrate with the seasons, traveling great distances and enduring physical hardships to secure food and shelter for their families. Their survival hinges on uprooting themselves and flying to an unknown place that they hope will provide what they need.
Starting in the 1990s, Korean culture mirrored this concept of sacrifice and travel when fathers who could afford to began sending their families to English-speaking countries so their children could achieve their dreams of a better life when they returned to Korea. Known as “Wild Goose Fathers,” they stayed in Korea to earn money. They, like migrating geese, would see their families only seasonally. “Penguin Fathers,” like those flightless birds, were the Wild Goose Fathers who weren’t sure if or when they would ever see their families due to the exorbitant expense of travel. During this same time period, another kind of migration was taking place in Korea. Many people in North Korea began defecting to the South in search of better lives. These flights were full of peril and trauma.
‘Wild Goose Dreams’ opens on a simple set with a storyteller (a splendid John D. Hoggerty) setting the play’s overarching narrative through a tale replete with metaphor and symbolism (although the audience won’t realize that until the play progresses). His bedtime tale is about an angel who loses the ability to fly and falls in love with a human. Later, the angel must choose between staying on earth with her lover or regaining her power of flight. These contradictory options of freedom and family, and the personal toll they exact, will overshadow the rest of the show.
Jung’s two main characters are the storyteller’s daughter, Yoo Nanhee (a perfectly cast Eunji Lim), and Guk Minsung (the equally terrific Jeffrey Song). Nanhee is a North Korean defector; Minsung is a Goose Father. Both are lonely, disoriented, and haunted by the family they live without. Nanhee’s father makes daily ghost-like appearances; Minsung’s wife and daughter show up sporadically via cellphone and Facebook.
Both turn to the internet and online dating for comfort and contact, and depicting that world is where ‘Wild Goose Dreams’ breaks through a theatrical glass ceiling.
Jung’s cyberspace is interpreted by Kim as a lively, noisy Greek Chorus of wild characters that chant and mime the equivalents of cellphone ringing, emojis and various internet functions (reboot is a stitch!). The costumes (Machel Ross), sound effects (George Cooke), and choreography are dazzling.
Amidst this chaotic cacophony of popups, “what’s on your minds” and other distractions, Nanhee (screen name ‘Miner’s Daughter’) and Minsung (‘Gooseman’) meet. Though they technically speak the same language, they bring different cultural contexts which Jung uses for both empathic and comic purpose. “Is that a joke?” each asks frequently, followed by “Is it a North/South Korean joke?”
Despite these communication disconnects, the two share an innocence and ease brought to life by Lim and Song’s effortless portrayals. They are both “lonely and paralyzed,” both preoccupied with those far away and bewildered by the terrain they now inhabit. Yet, both are open to redefining their lives to reflect their growing live (vs virtual) intimacy.
“Do we have impact on each other?” Minsung asks. “Couldn’t we call that love? Couldn’t that be enough for now?”
Jung’s play is not just humor, gimmickry, and imagination. Below the surface, the gifted playwright skillfully tackles the broader issue of the real and overwhelming challenges we face living in a world of generational, cultural, and technological disconnects. Her ‘Wild Goose Dreams’ is an entertaining, fun, well-produced piece of theater that is guaranteed to spark post-performance conversation.
For information and tickets, go to https://speakeasystage.com/
Wild Goose Dreams’ – Written by Hansol Jung. Directed by Seonjae Kim; Scenic Design by Crystal Tiala; Costume Design by Machel Ross; Lighting Design by Kathleen Zhou; Sound Design by George Cooke. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage at The Calderwood Pavillion, Boston through April 8.