By Naomi Ilzuka
Directed by Lisa Portes
At the Goodman’s Owen Theatre
Mystical journey into family ties is an enticing fairy tale
Playwright Iizuka’s new play, Ghostwritten, commissioned by the Goodman Theatre, is a drama about the lingering debt, complex family ties told with mystical elements including magical food. It is peopled with multi-ethnic Vietnam and Americans and is based on the brothers Grimm’s fairy tale, “Rumpelstiltskin,” Ghostwritten vividly depicts the lengths families will go to protect their loved ones.
We meet Susan (Kim Martin-Cotton), a 20something hippie woman traveling in Vietnam when she encounters a strange, shaman-type Women From Vietnam (Lisa Tejero in an eerily strong performance). Together with her male companion, Linh (Arthur Acuna), the Vietnamese women entices Susan with the magical powers of her cooking. Susan strikes a bargain with the Vietnamese women—the secrets of the magical food for her first-born child.
Fast forward twenty years finds Susan as an acclaimed chef specializing in Asian cuisine and the mother of an adopted Vietnamese-born daughter, Bea (Tiffany Villarin). Susan is thriving until the strange women from VietnamVietnam jungle? Is Linh the Women’s son or the shaman who escorts her on her magical journey to collect a debt? reappears to collect on the deft. Add Bea and Chad (Dieterich Gray) getting married and the return of Susan’s Vietnam vet now drunken brother, Martin (Dan Waller) and the family dynamics quickly become complicated. Is the Woman From Vietnam an evil spirit or is she the mistress of Susan’s soldier father who disappeared in the Vietnan war?
This fairy tale is a tad unfocused with subplots around the relationship between Martin and Linh and Bea’s escape into the woods. Told with wit, charm and humor, Ghostwritten has moments of deep emotional truth with enchanting mystical and mysterious action blending fairy tales storytelling with a modern family saga. This is a play where you must pay attention or you’ll quickly get lost. However, it does eventually resolve the cultural collisions and the struggle for identity of the characters. With some judicious editing and a clearer through line, Ghostwritten will emerge into a fine work. Linda Buchanan’s multi-level runway set and Keith Parham’s evocative lighting add depth to the magical elements. There is enough provocatively exotic theatricality and strong performances—especially from Lisa Tejero, Arthur Acuna and Kim Martin-Cotton—to make Ghostwritten a fulfilling night at the theatre.
At the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL, tickets $10 – 439, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7;30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7;30 pm, running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes without intermission, through May 3, 2009
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