It’s tempting to describe Writers Theatre’s production of Vietgone as a master stroke of timing. Inspired by the story of the playwright’s parents, who met and fell in love in 1975 in an Arkansas camp for Vietnamese refugees, Qui Nguyen’s 2015 show is making its Chicago debut at a time when America’s treatment of immigrants is at the forefront of the news cycle. But such a framing would do a disservice to Nguyen’s deeply personal script. After all, the play ends with Nguyen’s father, Quang (the swaggering, electric Matthew C. Yee), exhorting his son (Ian Michael Minh) to never forget that he isn’t really American or Asian: He’s Vietnamese. It’s not an immigrant story. It’s these immigrants’ story.
With exuberant theatricality, Vietgone ricochets through time and space, leading the audience from Vietnam to Arkansas and the open roads of the American Southwest. Quang is a cocky helicopter pilot, desperate to get back to the wife and kids he left behind in Southeast Asia. Fellow refugee Tong (Aurora Adachi-Winter, who has cornered the local market in belligerent spunk) believes in sex but not love, and is excited to start a new life in America. They meet through Tong’s mother (the uproarious Emjoy Gavino), and begin a torrid affair that falls apart when Tong explores a relationship with a local soldier and Quang embarks on an epic, ill-advised road trip to California with his best friend, Nhan (Rammel Chan).
The play’s endgame is never in doubt—after all, Qui Nguyen exists—b