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Review: ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ at The Welders

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Challenging theatrical conventions, Hello, My Name Is… by Deb Sivigny, directed by Randy Baker, and produced by The Welders is like no other theater production I have taken in, in recent memory. The production delicately took my hand, then persuasively guided me undeniably into stories and design elements I had not witnessed before on a DC area stage.

Call it an installation. Call it performance art. Call it a theatrical performance. Just know that Sivigny’s Hello, My Name Is… is a 90-minute master-class of uniquely connected stories from the perspective of its three central fictionalized characters: Korean adoptees brought to America as children. The stories I witnessed, and in some manner took a real part in, are about memory, trauma, cultural clash, and the ultimate search for a birth family. All to close a circle in a life adrift for young children caught up and deposited in a new country.

Linda Bard as June. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

A synopsis of Hello, My Name Is… cannot do the production real justice. But it would be this: what happens to children as they struggle to be make sense of their adoption and the ghosts of their own origins while living in a vast cultural dysphoria? From The Welder’s marketing information, let me add that the piece is inspired by playwright Sivigny’s own experiences as a Korean adoptee and her own journeys growing up in America, as well as a journey to Korea where she met members of the adoption community discovering their own unique stories.

Also, know that each performance of Hello, My Name Is… can be witnessed by only 15 patrons who are not a mere “sit-down-in-your-seat” presence. The performance takes place in-and-around, inside and outside, a two-story, seven-room house in Takoma Park, at Rhizome DC.

The three fictionalized characters are June (Linda Bard), Dana (Janine Baumgardner), and Bryan (Jon Jon Johnson). Each was adopted into by a different Minnesota family. Dana by a family of seeming money and advantages, June by a a more middle class, less privileged family, and Bryan into a home that is like a revolving door for a multitude of foster children. We, the audience, follow the three through first arrival in America to growing up into adulthood to traveling with them through the two-story house. We go with them through various rooms at different stages of their lives, trying to make sense of their lives through interactions with one another, with friends, with their adopted family, and then with strangers as they journey to Korea.

Linda Bard and Jennifer Knight. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

As they investigated their ideas of who they are, I did too, willingly. How could I not? Their performances were intimate and personally revealing without being overly theatrical. They worked full of assured whispers and murmurs, rich silences representing internal monologues, and out pourings of bafflement, grief, and physical anger that were just inches from me. As characters pronounced the Korean word “omma” (mommy), their emotions were right at the surface.

Joining the central characters are an impeccable, in-the-moment, surrounding ensemble of Wyckham Avery (Ultimate Mother), Julie Garner (Aunt Rosey), Jennifer Knight (Birth Mother), Momo Nakamura (Yuni, Flight Attendant, Esther) and Emily Sucher (Meredith)

The design team for Hello, My Name Is… includes Patti Kalil (an authentic feeling set design including an outdoor wedding reception along with a working fire pit, and a wonderful array of props such as a faceless doll and flashcards), Frank Labovitz (costume designer who took a rack of every day American clothes to make each matter; along with a very key, traditional Korean hanbok), and Roc Lee (using pop music to accent each of the character’s mind set at a particular time and place). Lighting design by Katie McCreary was mood-setting, even during the daylight matinee I attended.

Momo Nakamura and Janine Baumgardner. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

And special kudos to movement coach Yasmin Tuazon.  She put together a design that had performers and an active audience together, face-to-face, only a hair’s breadth separating one another.  Each knew the other was right there together with them.  It was a marvel. There was even a few moments of visual sensory deprivation that made abundant sense to me.

Let me quote playwright Deb Sivigny: “Sometimes words aren’t the right medium to convey story. They need visuals and tactile dance partners. Like the complexity of all of the opinions surrounding adoption, I hope you come away with a range of opinions and interpretations about the world we’ve created.” Well, the production succeeded in that aim with me.

So, go. Take it in. Participate in the production as you can. Debate it after you go. Hello, My Name Is… is absorbing, engaging, and fascinating in its construction of connected stories, words and design about people and events I suspect many of us know little of.

So go please. Explore what may take you beyond your usual theatrical boundaries. React to it. Then let me know what you took away. Hello, My Name is.. is truly full of humanity and so much vulnerability. I found it transfixing to investigate with a willingness to be a participant rather than a spectator.  And in the end, the title of the show will become quite clear.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Hello, My Name Is… is playing through November 12, 2017, at RhizomeDC – 6950 Maple Street, NW, in Washington, DC.  For tickets, call 1-800-838-3006, or purchase them online.

LINK:

Magic Time!: ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ at The Welders by John Stoltenberg

Notes from The Welders:

  • The location is indoor/outdoor and weather may vary. Please dress for warmth and comfort.
  • The location is not wheelchair accessible. If you have mobility or other accessibility concerns, please contact the Welders at connect@thewelders.org before purchasing your ticket.
  • Seating is not guaranteed. Some sections are standing room only.
  • Parties may be split up.
  • Food will be a part of the experience. If you have allergies, or other concerns, please let us know when you check in.

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