Here’s the synopsis for the world premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Poor Yella Rednecks (March 30-April 27, 2019, Segerstrom Stage).
NOTE! THIS SYNOPSIS CONTAINS SPOILERS. You've been warned....
Though occasionally called Vietgone 2, Poor Yella Rednecks is a play that stands on its own. It opens with the character of the Playwright interviewing his mother. At first she resists his questions, but then set some ground rules. First, he can’t only write about happy romantic things (This is a reference to Vietgone, which covered the story of his parents meeting in a refugee camp in Arkansas after the fall of Saigon). Second, she wants to sound like he does. He protests that he’s got a potty mouth, but she insists—launching the convention that the Vietnamese characters sound like R-rated action heroes. Her third rule is that the American characters speak the silly way she hears them. The Playwright agrees, and they launch into the interview.
The first thing that happens is that the Playwright finds out it wasn’t the story of “love at first sight” he had been led to believe, but his father (Quang) was married when he met his mother (Tong). The play then jumps into the past, showing through a rap-duet the pot-smoking proposal Quang pops on Tong and her delightedly stoned acceptance.
Jump forward six years, and Quang and Tong are living in El Dorado, Texas with their five year old son, illustrated by a puppet named Little Man, and Tong’s mother Huong. They’re barely scrapping by but making it work. Quang’s friend Nhan visits and encourages them to visit him in Houston, where a large number of Vietnamese have settled, but they are interrupted by Tong discovering a letter from Quang’s first wife—when they assumed she thought he died in the war.
Now immigration declares that they aren’t really married until Quang deals with his first wife—and she is not happy either, telling him in no uncertain terms to fuck off and rapping about how she’s better off without him. Racked with guilt, Quang secretly wipes out his and Tong’s hard-won $1000 savings and sends it back to his two kids in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Little Man tells his Grandmother Huong about his troubles in school. Kids make fun of him, and teachers can’t understand him. Tong investigates and the teachers recommend not speaking Vietnamese to him at home, so he can learn English. Except his grandmother takes care of him and only speaks Vietnamese.
When Tong learns that the diner where she works is closing, she proposes they buy it with their savings. Desperate to cover up his secret, Quang demands that he make the decisions in the family. Livid, Tong tells him to go to Houston and give her space. Quang does, hooking up with a girl while Tong goes on a date with her ex-boyfriend Bobby.
Tong discovers the missing money and confronts Quang, but he confesses to his dalliance with the girl in Houston. She stands strong and throws him out of the house, collapsing in tears after he leaves.
Little Man continues to struggle in school, and Tong demands Huong stop subverting his learning English…which she promptly ignores.
Quang appeals to Tong, but she stands her ground. She continues to date Bobby, although they aren’t quite on the same page.
Quang takes Little Man out to McDonald’s in a classic Dad trying to make it up to a kid move, even getting him an Atari. Little Man wants to know if he still loves Mommy, and Quang says he does but he messed up. Little Man gives him the advice he got from Grandma: clean your mess up.
Tong tries applying for jobs, but her English isn’t very good and she can’t fill out the applications. She goes to the store for groceries but doesn’t have enough money and tries to shoplift. She’s caught, and the police call Quang. He bails her out and brings a bag of weed. They reconnect and talk through Bobby and Quang’s affair, but when Quang tries to put the moves on Tong, she rejects him. Love is not enough—she needs to take care of the family.
Tong tells Huong she broke up with Bobby, and she’s resigned herself to her miserable job at a factory. Huong cracks and admits that she is the one who wrote to Quang’s first wife. Tong is upset, saying “I’m a single mom with a shit-ass job and a kid who can’t learn the fucking language in a country that looks right through us.” She leaves to clear her head.
Huong is now going to respect Tong’s wishes, and tells Little Man she isn’t going to tell him stories for a little while. She implores him to learn fast, and Little Man offers to teach English to her.
Tong finds herself at Quang’s to apologize for her mother’s ruinous action. He says he figured that, but has something he wants to give Tong. She mistakenly thinks it is divorce papers, but it is a rental agreement to the diner. He gets down on one knee and asks to work for her—an irresistible proposal.
The play jumps back to the Playwright interviewing his mother, and he and the company rap a song about why he wrote the play—because representation matters.
Learn more about Poor Yella Rednecks and buy tickets.