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 experience.
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.