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REVIEW: Another Look at The Korean Drama Addict (Theater Mu/Park Square)

A scene from The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Theater Mu and Park Square Theatre’s joint production of The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity has sold out much of it’s run in St. Paul, including added performances. In today’s review, Bev Wolfe goes back to the production for a second look at this popular show.

Ever watch Korean Dramas or K-dramas (Korean soap operas)?  I haven’t, but I grew up watching my mother’s soap operas.  As far as I can tell from attending The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity, the two forms of soap opera appear similar and equally addictive.  Theater Mu commissioned playwright May Lee-Yang to write Korean Drama and the theatre’s artistic director Randy Reyes brings Lee-Yang’s play to the stage.  The result is an Asian orientated love story that sparkles with humor and insights about both Korean culture and the transplanted Hmong culture in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Gao Hlee (Dexieng Yang) is a young American Hmong woman who works as a personality coach and lives with her mother.  She appears to have a thriving profession and she has taken on a new client, a Korean businessman by the name of Benedict (Brian Kim).  Hlee is a spunky free spirit who willingly gives up four hours of sleep every night to watch K-Dramas on the web.   We know that Hlee is going to fall in love with Benedict, since Hlee’s cell phone coincidentally rings with a romantic musical crescendo when they first meet.  (This turns out to be the first of several cell phone gags in the show.)  Benedict is initially an arrogant bore; his mother has hired Hlee to improve his personality for running the family business in Minnesota.  Hlee has her work cut out for her, as Benedict sees no need for a personality coach and he is not used to an employee being so bold and honest with him.

Other major characters include Hlee’s mom (Phasoua Vang), Benedict’s right hand man Secretary Kim (Clay Man Soo) and Benedict’s mother (Katie Bradley).  Additional performers start out the show as a Greek chorus, which is used to briefly explain to the audience what the usual storylines are for K-Dramas.  The chorus was a useful vehicle and I was disappointed that it was not used throughout the play.

The show contains numerous laughs and Yang and Kim make for a very believable couple in the end.  Yang more than holds her own as an equal to Kim’s Benedict, directing put-downs at him and repeatedly explaining the relevant differences between Hmong and Korean culture.  Kim makes Benedict’s evolution from being a snob to that of an empathetic employer very believable.  He also does a nice job with the umbrella jokes.  Soo’s character, a subservient secretary, plays well off his boss’ gruffness – but his character seems too young and inexperienced in the ways of love to have been in a boy band with Benedict when they were both in high school. Vang, playing a traditional Hmong mother, does a great job showing how similar she is to any American mother.  Bradley as Benedict’s mother could easily compete with Joan Collins for the role of Alexis Carrington.

As much fun as Korean Drama was to attend, at times it appears to be a work-in-progress.  Weaving the original chorus throughout the show would have been intriguing.  The most noticeable issue, however, is the long running time (2 hours and 40 minutes with intermission) and that the show threw in too many elements and had too many endings – something that is less of a problem in an ongoing series than it is a single theatrical play.  The show could easily cut elements such as the American racist karaoke song scene as well as the subplot of a Korean fiancé for Benedict, improving its pacing without being detrimental to the story. These flow and pacing concerns aside, it is a very entertaining show whose humor provides great insight into Asian-Minnesota cultures.

Korean Drama plays at the Andy Boss Thrust Stage at Park Square Theatre through August 19, 2018.

Bev Wolfe