The Crowded Fire Theater’s production of You For Me For You is an ambitious and, for the most part, a great experience. The show is well crafted and expertly performed, but there are parts where the narrative of the show just falls apart. At its best, the show is clever and poignant, but more often it is convoluted and difficult to follow. Still, it’s an enjoyable night out if you’re willing to suspend your sense of reality and go with the flow for an hour and a half.
More emotionally poignant than logically sound, the show follows two sisters, Minhee and Junhee (Grace Ng and Kathryn Han), and their journey to escape North Korea. The audience watches as one sister leaves to experience New York and the other sister’s bizarre fever-dream at the bottom of a well.
Artistic Director Mina Morita calls the show a “poem of scenes,” which is a decent way of describing the splicing of these two narratives. The younger sister, Junhee’s, story, is mostly linear and is truly a heartwarming story of starting a new life and learning English as a second language. Minhee’s story is a bit more difficult to follow after she falls down a well attempting to escape North Korea. Seemingly existing outside of the timeline of the rest of the show, she enters a Wonderland-esque world. Here, she must literally paint the trees green while she searches for her missing son.
The show is not going to be for everyone. The actors acted their hearts out, and were great, but it’s not a show designed to appeal to your average Joe. It’s frankly best enjoyed if you can let go of any hope of an understandable timeline. It’s a beautiful play, but not a very comprehensible one.
The unexpected stars of this play are the two actors playing most of the ensemble roles, Jomar Tagatac and Elissa Beth Stebbins. Both play a variety of rolls, Stebbins in the New York setting and Tagatac in the well. Stebbins in particular is given the most difficult lines of the play – gibberish that slowly bleeds into English as the character of Minhee learns the language.
If you’re going hoping to gain factual knowledge about the problems facing North Korean citizens and refugees, this show is not going to satisfy you. I would recommend that you do a little reading on what we know about North Korea before the show. Go watch a couple of Ted Talks to get a feel for the topic and then, perhaps buy a ticket to this surrealist play.
You For Me For You runs March 9 through April 1, 2017 at the Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Fransisco. Tickets range from $10-$35 in addition to student, senior and group rates.
Photos courtesy of Pak Han.