There are many memorable moments in "How to Be a Korean Woman," Sun Mee Chomet's affecting and sometimes uproarious one-woman show about finding her birth mother, but perhaps the most touching depicts a reunion with her Korean grandmother.
Stooping and scrunching up her face, Chomet ululates, beams and cries as she forms her hands into a wide embrace, her fingers shaking like palm fronds. Her grandmother speaks only Korean. Chomet speaks only English. The searching actor and her riveted audience fill the linguistic gap with presumptions about what is being felt and said in this tear-jerking encounter. Only later do we learn that her sweet grandmother was dismayed by Chomet's appearance.
With just two chairs, a scarf, a video projector and accompaniment by Twin Cities singer/songwriter Bri Heu, Chomet uses gestures, intonations and costumes to distinguish a battery of characters while vividly conjuring up the disappointments, joys and surprises she encountered. She takes us from curt officialdom to effusive laughter. The show is noteworthy for its honesty about Chomet's desire to unearth her roots and discover her genetic heritage -- a quest with which many Americans, brought to these shores in hopes and tears, can identify.
"Korean Woman," which runs just over an hour, is part of an evening of two autobiographical playlets by Korean-born, Minnesota-raised adoptees who sought their birth families. Katie Hae Leo's "N/A" is the other.
Both artists write with evocative images and humor. While Chomet is the more compelling performer -- she played Antigone in "Burial at Thebes" and Lady Macduff in "Macbeth," both at the Guthrie -- Leo is no slouch. She vividly relates her own dead-end search, but what she does not find in the real world, she creates in her imagination. Were her ancestors Korean swimming goddesses? Maybe. Is she descended from a famous Korean runner? Perhaps.
Leo's half-hour playlet is packed like a poem, in which the silences are just as meaningful. The urgency of her search is driven not only by emotion but by the search for answers to a neurological disorder that sometimes causes her to trip, making it hazardous to walk. But she's fine swimming. In "N/A," Leo's backstrokes and breaststrokes suggest the water in which we are all immersed, and she carries us along in her lyrical wake.