Review on "Oe Oe" by Joe Ruelle
Put on by Samestuff Theatre, a newly-formed group Vietnamese artists in their late teens and early-twenties, the show lasted for about an hour and drew a respectable audience of close to fifty.
The onstage action was limited to a single actress playing a baby in the womb, one of those theatrical conceptions that can easily lead to disaster if not done properly. Fortunately, however, the group pulled it off with smoothness to spare.
The setup was pretty simple: a small stage, a white sheet backdrop, a few flashlights, some masks, and some well-mixed sounds provided by director and group founder Ly Y Phan.
Sole stage performer Nguyen Vy Dung spent the show tied to the sheet backdrop by a small rope (i.e. the umbilical cord), while the rest of the actors ran around behind the backdrop, jumping, pounding, shadow-making and trying to pull the baby off stage (i.e. birth), an effort which was repeatedly – and often humorously – opposed.
There was some adept miming, a great bit in which mum and dad zapped the baby with an ultrasound (done with coloured lights and clever sound), some slick dancing and a lot of other cool ideas.
In truth, however, it becomes quite hard to describe these things as they were – one is tempted to use a lot of wispy adjectives and fluffy constructions that could apply to anything artistic, really – and so sometimes it’s best not to try.
Perhaps more telling than the show itself was the reaction of the audience. As I, the reviewer, watched the show I was actually shushed by a group of Vietnamese, which doesn’t happen very often, and was quite pleasing in a way, and I should add that I fully deserved the shushing, having been chatting too loudly during one of the moving bits.
All in all, it was a well-rehearsed and very professional show, and I was thoroughly impressed by how young and how good these kids are. Dung, especially, gave an well-timed and sharply crafted performance worthy of a fully-trained actress in any part of the world.
Of course theatre is a luxury for most Vietnamese actors – they all have jobs outside their art – and it’s hard to know where the group will go from here. But in the end some of us regular folks had a real experience, and as a theatre group, experimental or otherwise, that’s really all you can ask for.