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The Public Theater, New York

Walking into the Public Theater’s Martinson Hall feels like stepping into a fun karaoke bar in Koreatown. It’s full of neon, plastered with blown-up colorful ads and posters, dotted with staid landscapes and family portraits of yore, and K-pop booms. Wild Goose Dreams counters this energetic and immersive setting with a quiet, upsetting, and timely story about the chasm between the connections we dream of and the loneliness we contend with.

Wild Goose Dreams presents itself as a story of the social media age. The show’s small, talented chorus animates the hum of the internet with a pulsing refrain: “1011 / 00101… delete…what’s on your mind?” But the show’s emotional core is a story about fathers and daughters.

The show opens with a mirthful father’s bedtime story about an angel who, having found herself bound to earth, built a loving partnership and family but chose to fly back to heaven as soon as the opportunity presented itself. “If you have to choose between family and flying, I hope you would choose the flying,” he says. We eventually learn that this man is Nanhee’s father, and as a young adult Nanhee has heeded his lesson, fleeing North Korea alone to become an office worker for the South Korean government in Seoul.

Haunted by having left her father and family behind, Nanhee’s nightmares take center stage when she encounters Minsung, a lonely middle-aged Samsung employee. Minsung is a “goose father” whose wife and daughter are in America, pursuing an English-language education, supported by his Samsung salary and ascetic lifestyle. Brought together by online dating, Minsung and Nanhee develop an uncomfortable companionship as Nanhee shares strange visions about her father and Minsung shares his own paternal heartbreak.

The hour that follows packs a lot of story into a small space. Nanhee and Minsung connect more deeply – maybe. Nanhee’s waking nightmares intensify and disturb. Minsung follows his family’s new life in Connecticut on Facebook, raising uncomfortable doubts and frustrations. Loyalties waver, people move, a video goes viral. It’s probably too much story. But it sustains the feeling of a frenetic and fleeting world.

Wild Goose Dreams reminds us of the possibilities of parental love. It’s a bond that can bring warmth, sorrow, anger, and hope. It can be a salve for loneliness or its source. The show also reminds us that loneliness can dissipate, but it’s dark – and the internet is not a remedy.

The show demands a range of affect from its leads – Peter Kim (Minsung), Michelle Krusiec (Nanhee), and Francis Jue (Nanhee’s father) – and they mostly deliver. They each delve into loneliness, love, anger, tenderness, terror, hope, and humor. But the stagecraft, under Leigh Silverman’s direction, was even more impressive. The bright and memorable set brings Seoul’s constant thrum to life, while also serving as a river crossing, a tiny boarding room, an elaborate fountain, subtitles, and the internet.

The Public Theater’s commitment to standing up artist-driven and engaging work that touches the day’s social issues is alive and well in Wild Goose Dreams. For those looking for the Public’s next blockbuster, keep moving uptown. But audiences who welcome a challenging, intimate, and interesting dose of theater may find it here.

  • Drama
  • By Hansol Jung
  • Directed by Leigh Silverman
  • Cast includes: Dan Domingues, Lulu Fall, Kendyl Ito, Francis Jue, Peter Kim, Michelle Krusiec, Jaygee Macapugay, Joél Pérez, Jamar Williams, Katrina Yaukey
  • The Public Theater, New York
  • Until 16 December 2018

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