By Ling-Mei Wong
Two sisters sacrifice for one another in Mia Chung’s hauntingly lovely play “You for Me for You.” Junhee (Jordan Clark) and Minjee (Giselle Ty) are alone in the world, having lost their parents and family. Living at subsistence level in North Korea, the sisters fight for survival and for each other.
In the opening scene, Minjee and Junhee shove a mouthful of rice back and forth, insisting the other eat first.
“You’ve giving me a headache!” the ailing Minjee exclaims, while hacking up a lung.
“You have a headache because you’re not eating!” Junhee retorts.
Junhee decides to escape from North Korea to save her frail sister. At the Crossing, the two are separated and never appear together for the rest of the play, but remain in each other’s thoughts.
Minjee is trapped with the Smuggler (Michael Tow) in the totalitarian regime, while Junhee is transported to America and tries to raise money to bring Minjee over. Along the way, she encounters fast-talking Tiffany (Anna Waldron) and the charming Man from the South (Johnnie McQuarley), who introduce her to shoes and cell phones. Her American friends force her to rethink her assumptions about the decadent West.
While the play is set in bleak conditions, it has brilliant humor sprinkled throughout. Minjee worries about Junhee being harvested for her North Korean kidneys by “heartless, perverse barbarians,” as Junhee marvels at 42 ways to treat a cough. Both sisters come across as authentic, rather than one-dimensional damsels in distress. As they struggle to reconcile rhetoric with reality, their love forms the beating heart of “You for Me for You.”
Playwright Chung was raised by South Korean parents and had a lifelong fascination with mysterious North Korea. Two events in 2009 — the detainment of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, and the release of kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard after 18 years — shaped her belief that North Korean citizens are held by their government but each individual has a unique experience.
The Boston showing of “You for Me for You” by Company One is its second professional production and a revision since the world premiere in November 2012 at Washington, D.C.-based Woolly Mammoth.
“You for Me for You” will play in Boston until Feb. 16 at the Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theatre. Tickets are $20 to $38 full price and $15 for students. A Pay What You Can Performance (minimum $6) takes place 2 p.m. Jan. 27. For more information, visit www.companyone.org.
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