Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Far Country and Intimate Apparel: Identity and Remembrance

Eric Yang, Jinn S. Kim, and Amy Kim Waschke in The Far Country. (Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

The Far Country, recently produced by the Atlantic Theatre, begins in 1909 on Angel Island, outside San Francisco, where Chinese who seek citizenship undergo relentless, repetitive, often confusing interrogations designed to locate the tiny contradictions in their stories. In this case the candidate, Gee (Jinn S. Kim), was born in San Francisco to an immigrant who came over to America to work in the mines and an unknown mother – likely a prostitute. In his interview he explains that he went back to China to start a family, then left them behind to return to the States and begin a laundry business. Now he is seeking to visit his wife and children, already grown, in China. This story, we learn in the next scene, is a scam, at least the part about his family in the old country. In a small Chinese village Gee finds a widow (Amy Kim Waschke) in desperate straits – she owes money to a gangster she can never repay – whose son, Moon Gyet (Eric Yang), Gee wants to pass off as his own. If the boy, who is about sixteen, can memorize the narrative Gee has prepared for him and withstand the Angel Island interrogators, then Gee will pay the widow’s debts and Moon Gyet can work off the cost of his passage in his employ. Moon Gyet is bright, strong-willed and full of conviction, and though he has to stay on Angel Island for nearly two years, through two appeals of his case, ultimately he attains citizenship. Gee bankrolls the extended process (the cost includes bribes), adding years to the young man’s indentured servitude, but Moon Gyet considers himself lucky: not only has he won entrance to America, “the gold mountain,” but he’s kept his mother and siblings alive. In the second act he returns to his village, dressed as an American gentleman, in search of a young woman from a similarly destitute family he wants to pass off as his wife. He is, in the vernacular of the time, selling his name.