Krystle Piamonte Sparkles as Vietnamese Child-Refugee
by Alisa Hofmann
Ten-year-old Hà (dynamic twenty-something Krystle Piamonte) is forced to flee Saigon with her mom and three brothers, surrendering everything she cherishes, including her only doll. Hà’s energy and emotion evoke laughter and tears as we travel with her from Vietnam, to Guam, to ultimately settle in Alabama in the 60s. She is the only “medium” skin-toned student in her class.
Benjamin Nguyen expertly plays all three brothers, bringing each to life seamlessly with a simple wardrobe adjustment of a ball cap, the flick of his collar, and spirited body language. Their distinct personalities develop: Brother Quang expresses his passion for politics and intricate details. Brother Vū leaps high with kung-fu-kicks and karate-chops. Brother Khôi nurtures a newly-hatched chick from a carefully saved egg.
The three brothers grow to become her heroes. They teach English and self-defense skills to other refugees and protect Hà during her toughest school days. We shiver, excitedly witnessing Hà persevere as she is relentlessly bullied about her name, accent, religious beliefs, and her “pancake face.” With the help of her brother and an unexpected friend, she proves we can fight our battles “without using your fists” in this land of horseless cowboys.
BACT stays true to the book’s fervor. We laugh and cry together as projected images, video clips, and nostalgic music move us across the ocean and back in time. My daughter excitedly turns to me when she hears they make it to Guam, the land of her heritage. She is filled with pride because she, like Hà, has medium skin-tone and dark, short hair.
“Inside Out & Back Again” guides us through themes of, immigration, friendship, racism, bullying, and survival. Kids, ages seven and up, will recognize the importance of caring for others who are different. Afterwards, adults can read the delightful poetic book with kids and discuss hard questions. As the performance closes, my daughter hugs me tight, and I wipe a tear of relief from her cheek. Hà finds “home isn’t a place” after all.
Whenever we see a BACT show, I wonder, “How could they possibly top this performance?” BACT’s dedication to excellence, their care for the next generation, and ability to draw us in gives every theatergoer an authentic experience.
“Inside Out & Back Again,” adapted by Min Kahng, directed by May Liang, based on the book by Thanhha Lai, at Bay Area Children’s Theater, Berkeley, through Sunday, May 27, 2018. Info: bactheatre.org
Cast: Krystle Piamonte, Kathryn Han, Benjamin Nguyen, Samuel Caufield, and Gabriella Momah. Understudies: Bob Shyrock and Alissa Leanne So.