by Ed Malin · April 29, 2015
Courage fighting AIDS. Courage fighting to get Han Dynasty China out of Vietnam. There are two exciting storylines at work in Red Flamboyant, a play and aerial experience written by Don Nguyen and directed by Laura Savia.
In Northern Vietnam, Mrs. Sau (Karen Huie), whose name means “insect”, lives in a household with Mrs. Hue (Nancy Sun), whose name means “flower”. They annoy each other, but, like the Vietnam presented in this show (beset by monsoons, heroin, absent husbands and even death incarnate) they are very resilient. New arrival Nga (Criena House) looks on in wonder as Mrs. Sau and Mrs. Hue talk Vung (Kim Wong) out of slashing her wrists. This happens nearly on a daily basis, and in the darkly comic, survival-oriented world of the play it makes sense. Perhaps to cheer up Vung, they tell the story of the Trung Sisters, who once led a rebellion against China and took their own lives rather than surrender. Thanks to Karen Fuhrman’s aerial choreography and Lisa Kopitsky’s fight choreography, Vung and Nga become the Trung Sisters. Paralleling various other struggles in the play, they are hooked up to elastic and fly around the stage in that mythical way. Dressed in Stephanie Levin’s traditional costumes, they’re truly beautiful. And why are the air-bendings of two tragic wonderwomen so moving?
As husbands abuse heroin, wives become infected by HIV. The cast of strong female characters want to hang on to life, yet slowly disappear from the stage.
Mrs. Hue goes to the government for anti-retrovirals, where Diem (Don Castro) tells her that they can only help so much. Enter the Trung Sisters again, those who fight against impossible odds.
Walking into the sacred church space where this show lives, I felt like I was in another world. Ann Beyersdorfer’s colorful set evokes Southeast Asia and, by virtue of being rectangular in the round, is quite immersive. Jeanette Yew’s shadow puppetry further helps to transport the audience to different places and times. Most importantly, the mostly female characters are solidly written and portrayed. This is a wonderful peek into what it takes to survive, or (next best thing) to make a difference.