That starts with Grandma, who suffers from dementia and who leaps from the roof of Sunrise Dewdrop Apartment City for Senior Living on the border of South and North Korea, falling to her presumed death inside the demilitarized zone.
That continues to her daughter, who is plunged into depression by her mother’s likely death and who copes by installing a gazebo for the roof of her Seoul condo, then tries to leap off that roof. She instead trips, bumps her head and enters a coma in which she meets Kim Jong-Il and a maimed bunny.
And that extends a third generation to Hannah, who is supposed to be studying for an exam to become a board-certified neurologist when she receives a package from her grandmother with a note she can’t understand and a little white stone, “a wish” that’s been passed down through their family.
That’s not to mention Hannah’s father, who’s sent to negotiate with bureaucrats for the right to look for his mother-in-law’s body in the DMZ or his son, an American rocker kid who can’t understand the language or customs of his parents’ native land and who bemoans that fact that everybody there “looks the same.”
Which is all to say that Jiehae Park’s world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a bit gauzy, to the point of sometimes feeling psychedelic. It’s arguably the most ambitious of the offerings in Ashland this year, a 90-minute dramedy with two suicide attempts and a chat with a brutal dictator. Much of the plot involves unraveling a myth related to the origin story of Korea, in which a bear becomes human by living in a cave with nothing but garlic for 100 days. Despite its headiness, Hannah is propelled by intrigue and well-timed bits of humor, but grounded in familial bonds that’ve gotten tangled with politics, generational conflict and eccentricity.
Hannah is a short play and moves fast, in large part thanks to performances by Cindy Im and Jessica Ko.
Im plays the titular character, delivering several short but commanding monologues and bringing energy to interactions with her family, characters who are mild thanks to personality or crippling depression.
Ko plays more characters than I could count, from the grandmother to a nurse to Kim Jong-Il. She’s excellent in each role. Her reappearances become a welcome sight and her jokes leaven what could otherwise be dreary scenes only meant to move the story forward.
If there is a weak point in Hannah, it’s the coma-induced dreamworld Hannah’s mother enters after her botched suicide. As her family frets and plots, she’s in the DMZ, surrounded by land mines and animals, where she meets with Kim Jong-Il, who has died just as the story unfolds. It’s hard to say what exactly a dream sequence should offer, given it’s a license for absurdity, but the intended takeaway was lost on me. Once the ghost of Jong-Il has been conjured, something more should be done with him—otherwise it’s a bit too Tarantino for the tone here.
For all the calculated disorientation, Hannah does wrap things up in a satisfying way that manages to build on the mythology introduced and settle the family drama. That’s no small feat in a world of garlic, bears, inherited wishes and bureaucrats.
SEE IT: Hannah and the Dread Gazebo is at Thomas Theatre, 15 S Pioneer St., Ashland, through Oct. 28. See osfashland.org for full schedule. $30-$108.