410[GONE] Review: Hurts So Good

June 14, 2013

Production Photo by Pak Hang.


410[GONE] is a love story. Cindy Im plays Twenty-one, a twenty-one year-old college
student. Her brother is Seventeen (Chris Cortez), a seventeen year-old who has
died. Twenty-one commits to finding him, even though she can’t reach him by
instant message or email anymore. “I am afraid,” she says to her screen, “that
you do not know the language of ones and zeroes.” Seventeen seems to be (http
status) code 410, or just gone.

When faced with
tragedy, Twenty-one turns to her computer for answers. The virtual becomes an
appropriate metaphor for the space between life and death, that period of time before
you realize someone is really gone. Her computer ostensibly allows Twenty-one
to continue trying her brother at a familiar address while she attempts to
determine his new one. She extends her detective work into spiritual
realms when she asks her screen, “Where do you go if you are American, but your
blood is Chinese?”

The answer implied
by playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig is: You still go to the Chinese Land of the
Dead, but one where the levels of the Underworld are equivalent to those of Dance
Dance Revolution. Here, before souls transmigrate to their next lives, they are
digitized into the video game. When Seventeen appears there, he avoids an
Ox-headed god (Michael Uy Kelly) and eventually meets the Monkey King (Alexander Lydon), an immortal who
wears knee-high Chuck Taylors, and Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy (Charisse Loriaux), who has some serious knee-high footwear of her own. 

41[GONE] is set at these symbolic
crossroads, between knee-high boots and deity, pop culture and Chinese religious syncretism. But one of the true strengths of this play is that employing cultural
imagery does not equate to focusing on Asian American identity. It is a difficult balancing act that Cowhig performs skillfully. 41[GONE] re-organizes and layers familiar Asian American dramatic elements (traditional folk elements, etc.) and typical American experiences (fast food, etc.) to expose, but never define, Twenty-one’s grief,
Seventeen’s spiritual dilemma, and a relationship between a brother and sister.
In short, the play’s exploration of heritage eventually becomes a frame through
which the audience witnesses the most vulnerable of human processes: loving,
dying, and letting go. Frances’ bricolage of imagery creates a cultural frame
that is so emotionally accurate one forgets its critical role in creating the

A previous Hyphen review called Frances a "fearless, fiercely intellectual writer whose
work unsettlingly thematizes the transgression of boundaries..."  This reviewer simply adds that she can also write a real tear-jerker without an ounce of nostalgia or a trace of sentimentality. If you
cry at this play, don’t worry. It’s just because it hurts so good. 

410[GONE] is a production of Crowded
Fire Theater, directed by Evren Odcikin, with video and set design by Wesley Cabral. It premieres this week
at San Francisco’s Thick House and runs Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. until June 29th. Tickets range from $10-$35. Buy them here.