Michelle Krusiec and Peter Kim in ‘Wild Goose Dreams.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)
By Ryan Leeds
They told me I was brave. When I moved to New York City from a rural Pennsylvania farm town, I had no idea what I was doing and, with the worst possible sense of direction, where I was going most of the time. This was long before the advent of iPhones and GPS. Still, I had the security of knowing that I could swallow my pride and return home if life fell apart.
Yoo Nanhee (Michelle Krusiec), the lead character of Hansol Jung’s Wild Goose Dreams does not have that luxury. As a defector from tyrannical North Korea, she can never go home again. “This is the face of the hero who has climbed over impossible walls to find success in paradise,” she tells Minsung (Peter Kim). “It is not the face of the idiot who risks paradise because she misses her family, no?”
Minsung knows what it is like to be miles from kin. His wife (Jaygee Macapugay) and daughter trekked to the United States to make a better life for themselves. He is a goose father. “The term,” he explains, “is inspired by the fact that geese migrate, just as the goose dad must travel a great distance to see his family.” To fend his loneliness, Minsung resorts to online dating where he meets Nanhee. “My wife and daughter have been in America for seven years, I don’t think they’d know if I lit myself on fire, how will they know that I’m having an affair?” he tells Nanhee.
Both crave connection in Seoul. Not the sort that comes from liking, loving, poking, or commenting on social media. Instead, an intellectual and corporeal dynamic that screens and technology cannot offer.
I stand in admiration and awe of characters like this. While Jung’s story is a work of fiction, millions of actual immigrants have made similar sacrifices to carve a better lot for themselves and/or their loved ones. They are the brave fighters. Moving to a neighboring state as I did was merely a change of pace.
My anticipation of seeing this drama unfold as I entered the Public Theater was high. Walking into Martinson Hall, I stared in amazement at Clint Ramos’ neon-fabulous, immersive set. His electric creation of a 24-hour caffeinated city (in this case, Seoul) suggested that the audience would be in for an exciting night of theatre.
Instead, we were fleeced.
As the underutilized Greek chorus filled the stage delivering the cacophonous sounds of technology, I hoped the dream would soon end. Ninety minutes later, that dream was deferred as Jung’s play continued to spew extraneous technobabble.
There are some worthy ideas to be mined here and Jung’s intention of exploring our relationships with each other—whether virtual or real—is a noble one. The goose father theme in itself would make for a compelling story. Yet Jung’s conveyance of our techno-reliant world and its effect on human interaction is nothing new. Journalists, politicians, scientists, and artists have been offering the same doomsday commentary long before we even knew what the Internet was. Just last year, the late Stephen Hawking warned, “Technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war.”
Jung’s vision to bring voice to the Internet is a cool concept, but it quickly becomes grating and annoying. The reoccurrence of penguins is also bizarre. Nanhee dreams that her father gave her a pair of wings that were taken from the flightless bird. Later, he demands his wings back. Ensemble members dressed as the black and white creatures make random appearances, along with a stuffed animal version, which pops out of a toilet.
Director Leigh Silverman (The Outer Space) and playwright Jung deserve major accolades for attempting to push the boundaries of conventional theater, and there is some poetically beautiful language. Yet the abstruse nature of Wild Goose Dreams ultimately clouds the vital message about human connection.
Wild Goose Dreams
The Public Theater/Martinson Hall
425 Lafayette Street, NYC
Through December 16
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on @Ry_Runner or Facebook.