“You for me for you” is the story of two North Korean sisters, Junhee and Minjee, that decide to escape for a better life. They connect with a smuggler who warns them that there is a cost with every attempt to escape North Korea. The cost for these sisters is that Minjee, the elder sister who is sick, is unable to make the crossing and is left behind in North Korea. The show then flashes back and forth between the two sister’s lives over the ensuing years.
Junhee makes her way to New York City and begins a life of her own. Playwright Mia Chung uses an effective tool in conveying the assimilation of Junhee into American culture. Instead of having our North Korean main character saddled with heavy thick accent she has the American’s she encounters speak in a gibberish/broken English where every few words are understandable, allowing the audience to more effectively stand in the shoes of Junhee. Kimberly Gilbert expertly portrays an array of pink clad American characters that Junhee encounters, including a construction worker, hospital patient, and human resources employee at her job. As time goes by the gibberish becomes less pervasive and ultimately the characters are all speaking fluent English. While in the United States Junhee makes a life for herself and becomes more assimilated into the American consumer lifestyle of buying the latest cell phones and new pair of shoes. Junhee ultimately meets an American man who gives her everything she could want, except her sister who is back in North Korea.
Meanwhile, Minjee remains with the smuggler on the border of North Korea as she confronts all she was taught of the outside world and what Junhee is facing in that world, and how life outside of North Korea is not better than life inside of North Korea. All the while, the smuggler is attempting to convince her that the stories they have been taught growing up about the outside world and their country are not true. Minjee is ultimately forced to confront all of what she thought and make the decision of whether to cross the border and re-unite with her sister. But as the smuggler warns early in the show, there is always an unexpected cost with an attempt to cross the border.
The entire cast does an excellent job throughout the show, including Ruibo Qian as Junhee, Jo Mei and Minjee and Francis Jue as the smuggler. But special kudos to Kimberly Gilbert in her supporting role and her ability to recite her gibberish/broken English lines at the speed of a New York minute.
“You for me for you” only has a short time left at Woolly, but is definitely worth checking out before it makes its way for a run in Boston.
Up Next: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Sydney Harmon Hall, November 30, 2012.