My Theatre

08 January 2018

Next Stage, 2018: Part III

By // Theatre (Toronto)

Good Morning, Viet Mom

“I can’t talk about my mom without talking about my dad. I can’t talk about my dad without talking about the divorce. I can’t talk about the divorce without talking about family. And I can’t talk about family without talking about my grandma.” And just so, playwright and comedian Franco Nguyen walks us through a journey of self-discovery, family, and heritage in his show Good Morning Viet Mom. Bringing us back and forth between Toronto and Vietnam, between his mother and his father, between English and Vietanamese, Nguyen is a translator not only of a language he has forgotten, but of his own identity. This beautiful and comedic solo show is a highlight of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

As a comedy piece, Good Morning Viet Mom doesn’t disappoint. It will make you laugh out loud with some topical, and progressive jokes.  But it also goes to some surprisingly touching places. Nguyen reflects on his complicated relationship with his mother and father, on growing up a second generation Vietnamese man, and on racism in Toronto. It seems clear that Nguyen is a comedian first; his enunciation isn’t always on point, and the pieces is somewhat a-tonal. However, this pales in comparison to active listening Nguyen engages in throughout, responding to our laughs and responses, giving Good Morning Viet Mom a unique energy.

Overall, Good Morning Viet Mom is a lovely weaving of comedy, film, and storytelling. Throughout, Nguyen’s search for heritage becomes self-portrait; his reflection on family becomes a reflection on the self. In this way, Nguyen has created a show that walks the difficult line between personal and political, and between funny and moving, resulting in a relatable, beautiful show that is not to be missed.

Rumspringa Break

Described as an “Am-ish” musical, Rumspringa Break! offers an evening of silly jokes, some crude humour (the good kind!), and excellent onstage talent. Anyone who works in theatre knows that writing and staging a new musical is no small feat. Rumspringa Break! has delivered in spades. Songs about Feminism, smoking weed, murder and (of course) the transformation power of love and family all come together in this off-the-walls musical comedy that will have you thinking “We’re not in Amish Country Anymore.”

We meet Ruth and Hannah, two Amish twin sisters, about to embark on Rumspringa, an adolescence rite of passage where Amish teens are allowed to experience the non-amish world before they are baptized. Hannah (Arinea Hermans)—the more celebrated twin within the community—is eager to for this adventure, bringing her odd-ball twin Ruth (Georgia Bennett), reluctantly along with her. They immediately fall in with a rough-around-the-edges community, unknowingly working in a grow-up in the big bad city of Buffalo. What follows is a tale of love, family and personal growth as the two sisters are thrown completely out of their element. It’s a sweet and silly story, a delightful musical, with fun tunes, and excellent performances. Highlights include the powerhouse team of Hermans and Bennett; with impressive harmonies, beautifully blended voices, and a lovely stage presence, these two—despite their differences—never made me doubt that they were sisters. The chorus too were excellent, all incredible singers with spot on energy. Joel Cumber, as Samuel—the head-over-heels-in-love Amish boyfriend— was a particular stand out, gleefully chewing the scenery throughout.

My only criticism is that the storyline was somewhat predictable, and the songs, while certainly good, were not overly memorable. This is perhaps why, while the show was only 75 minutes long, it felt long by the end. This however this is a small detail compared to the virtuosic performances, the high energy and goofy humour that still has me smiling. While this might not be your grandmother’s musical, Rumspringa Break! mixes sweet and spicy with a new musical that will have you giggling and guffawing throughout.

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