"You're too clean to be here, young man," the wizened white-haired figure (writer/performer Viet Nguyen, 2010's Reincarnation Soup) challenges, with the sound of chanting echoing softly in the distance. "Did the government send you here? Or the Christians? Or the Buddhists?"
From atop a landscape of garbage, "where dreams flow like rivers of sewage," this trash collector offers to sell us a broken television ("only $50,000!") but shares his stories for free, like a cocaine dealer hooking new clients. Listen closely, and you'll learn the legend of how the Monkey King learned to master magical transformation, fly to the edge of the universe, and urinate on Buddha's palm. With masterful mask-work and simian slapstick, Nguyen crafts an intensely theatrical introduction to these foundational fables from Asian culture (made famous in the 1986 Chinese miniseries Journey to the West) that are virtually unknown in the western world.
In between the trashman's tales, Nguyen also inhabits several other interconnected identities: an insecure expat social worker, a zodiac-inspired madam/matchmaker, an uneducated underage concubine. Their tantalizing threads weave a story of desperation and hope set in the brothels of Vietnam.
The uninitiated may not understand all of the cultural references, but this actor's obvious emotional investment speaks a universal language. I wish Viet had a director to help shape the script, especially the intense but unfulfilling ending, which leaves many characters' threads unresolved. But watching Nguyen ritualistically exchange masks, emerging as a new persona with an entirely different physicality, makes this journey more than worthwhile.
Viet Nguyen - Altamonte Springs, FL
Friday 18 May; at 9:15pm in the Green
Saturday 19 May; at 6:45pm in the Green
Sunday 20 May; at 9:45pm in the Green
Tuesday 22 May; at 7:00pm in the Green
Thursday 24 May; at 10:45pm in the Green
Friday 25 May; at 5:30pm in the Green
Saturday 26 May; at 1:00pm in the Green
Price: $11 + Fringe Button (good for entire Fringe)
Discount(s): Anyone wearing a t-shirt with a monkey on it