Sideshow Theatre production explores the depths of sacrifice
What are you willing to sacrifice to change your life?
How far are you willing to go to be free?
What would you give for a loved one?
Mia Chung’s powerful You for me for You explores these questions and so much more.
We follow Minhee and Junhee as they decide—in Minhee’s case somewhat reluctantly—to leave their country and try their fate at the dangerous Crossing. In this writer’s view, this is an exceptionally well-staged and beautifully choreographed moment. They are told the Crossing will take a sacrifice and it does. The sisters are devastatingly separated. Junhee makes it across and, eventually, to America. while Minhee is stuck in North Korea. Each sister encounters strange characters in their quest to be reunited with the other. Each is forced to cope with unusual circumstances.
The minimalist stage, designed by William Boles, is framed in a striking red rectangle that makes us feel as trapped as our lead characters do— Minhee (Helen Joo Lee) and her younger sister Junhee (Jin Park) —in famine stricken North Korea. The enclosed feel of the space brings us in. Each scene is aided by a series of horizontal slats, each side adorned with different imagery, that rotate to create a new environment as the sisters move through the world. Lighting design by Cat Wilson is truly a part of the storytelling: framing isolated moments; casting menacing, desperate shadows; or putting a harsh, disorienting edge on the world.
Chung’s use of language throughout the text is remarkable. At some turns the dialogue draws us into their world. At other times we are forced to feel like an outsider, as Junhee is. We struggle alongside her as she meets various women (all portrayed by the very funny Katy Carolina Collins) and watch her adapt to a drastically different lifestyle. She is finally able to make a connection with a man, the charming Patrick Agada. But can she truly leave her country, and her sister, behind?
Minhee’s journey has an almost dreamlike quality; stuck in a maze of endless bureaucracy, meaningless tasks, and constant suspicion as she searches for her lost husband and son. She meets various people both nefarious and kind— portrayed by the talented Gordon Chow and John Lu— as she struggles to let go of her past. The use of puppetry throughout her journey is incredibly effective in aiding to develop the magical feel of her story. Both Lee and Parks both deliver excellent and moving performances and are supported by a skilled ensemble.
The staging by director Elly Green is masterful. The journey she takes us on is not easy, but it is necessary, particularly with today’s political climate. It is all too easy, as Americans, to see North Koreans as a monolith. This important work will smash that mistaken notion.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of Best Plays in Chicago where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
Playing through April 8th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm
Run time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission
Full Disclosure: The author of this review had attended university with Patrick Agada, one of the cast members
About the Author
Taryn Smith graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Taryn Smith.