One Girl, Two Cities

Review: The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity

Courtesy of Theater Mu

Theater Mu’s Through Her Eyes season celebrates female playwrights and protagonists and wraps up with The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity at Park Square Theater. I had the honor of attending this world premiere by May Lee-Yang, and I already can’t wait to see it again before it closes.

Korean dramas are basically South Korean soap operas with plots involving anything from the supernatural to gender bending. Well known cliches for K-dramas include a nefarious mother, a poor woman and rich man who fall in love, and… piggyback rides. The main character Gao Hlee (Dexieng Yang) is a young Hmong woman who practices “self care” by watching K-dramas and frequenting the neighborhood Hmong bar. She’s about to turn thirty and is focused on losing her virginity, for reasons disclosed in the second act. Her new client Benedict (Brian Kim) is the heir to a large company, and his mother has flown him to the Midwest from Korea for personality coaching. Gao Hlee feels she knows a lot about Korean culture because of her K-drama addiction and as she continues to spend time with Benedict, she’s excited to see for herself if the stereotypes from the shows are real.

Photo by Rich Ryan

As this is a rom-com, you can guess where the plot leads, but you’ll have the time of your life along the way. The production team has packed in as many nods to K-dramas as possible, and each one in turn will have you giggling in your seat as well as cheering on the cast. You’ll experience cheesy slo-mo running, a glimpse into the making of a boy band, and more. Lee-Yang’s script is smart as all get out, and you’ll barely realize you’ve received an incredibly entertaining history lesson. To this day, you’ll find tension among different Asian communities because of the long histories we have with each other. I can recall one time in college when my Korean mother said I could date other Asian men, just not Chinese or Japanese. After seeing Korean Drama Addict, you’ll understand why. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with Hmong history, I suggest you read up on it, especially as we have a large Hmong population in the Twin Cities.

I genuinely love this cast. Dexieng Yang as Gao Hlee is immediately likable as an intelligent, street savvy woman. Brian Kim’s icy Benedict thaws at a nice pace, and it’s worth it to go for his karaoke performance alone. Benedict’s sidekick, Secretary Kim, is played by Clay Man Soo, and he’s young, enthusiastic, and provides the perfect amount of vulnerability. And wait until Katie Bradley makes her entrance as Benedict’s mother. She’s the stereotypical rigid Korean mother who values status over anything else, and her presence easily commands attention. I got a kick out of this character, thinking about expectations my mother has placed on me throughout my life, right down to my accessories. My earrings should be real diamonds and my purses should have expensive labels (even if they’re knock offs, haha). And when it comes to relationships, “Sometimes you just have to stay with people,” is what she told me after the last one ended because he owned a house and had a good paying job. Lots of practicality, not much emotion.

Gao Hlee’s mom (Phasoua Vang) is a little different in that she understands why Gao Hlee wants to lose her virginity, and she fully supports this mission. (Though it would be nice if it resulted in a relationship, of course.) Vang is a natural in this role, and I found her quite endearing. Khadija Siddiqui plays Gao Hlee’s best friend Z as a hippie-esque life coach who adds some grounding to the this fantastical show, and providing most of these special elements is Joann Oudekerk, Gregory Yang, Yeej Moua, and Mai See Lee. 

Photo by Rich Ryan

Korean Drama Addict is ambitious to say the least, but director Randy Reyes knows what he’s doing with all these moving parts, including making excellent use of the Park Square stage. You’ll see much larger stages around town, but I like the Andy Boss Thrust Stage especially for the combination of entrances and exits performers can use. As the excitement of the story line grows, Sarah Brandner’s scenic design supports what’s happening but never overshadows or gets in the way, and modular pieces allow for quick scene changes to keep things moving along. And costume designer Samantha Fromm Haddow skillfully provides unique yet appropriate pieces for each character.

I found myself not wanting Korean Drama Addict to end, in addition to feeling extremely fortunate to have May Lee-Yang here as a wonderful female Hmong playwright. She’s made the play just the right balance of something that could happen in real life while paying sincere homage to the ridiculousness of K-dramas. There’s a plethora of K-dramas on Netflix, so I know what I’ll be binge watching next!

The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity runs through August 19 at Park Square Theatre. Theater Mu aims to make their shows accessible by offering Pick A Price tickets for as little as $5. How amazing is that? Click here to purchase.

Also see May Lee-Yang’s interviews in Minnesota Monthly and Twin Cities Arts Reader.

Other reviews: Cherry and Spoon | Life in Revue | Compendium | The Room Where It Happens

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