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OSF opens 'Hannah and the Dread Gazebo'

Just as Hannah is about to become a board-certified neurologist in New York, she receives a FedEx package containing a suicide note from her grandmother in Seoul, Korea, along with a smooth, white stone that the note says is "a wish." Hannah flies to Seoul with her brother, Dang, to join their parents. This reunion leads Hannah and her family on a surreal, funny, heartbreaking adventure back to their roots in South and North Korea and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them.

This new comedy by playwright Jiehae Park — with guest appearances by the ghost of Kim Jong-Il, subway mystics and a talking tiger — twists together creation myths and family histories to explore what it means to walk the edge between cultures.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival presents the premiere of Park's "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo," directed by Chay Yew. Previews are set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, 1:30 p.m. Friday, March 31, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 1, in the Thomas Theatre on the OSF campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. The show opens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 2, and runs through Oct. 28. Showtimes, ticket prices and information are available online at osfashland.org or by calling 800-219-8161.

Park is a firm believer in the power of art and the necessity of comedy.

"When life seems insurmountably difficult, we make art, or we make jokes, or we crawl into a hole and die,” she says in a press release. “The first two seem like better alternatives to me. That tension of pushing against darkness is what creates the humor in the play — deep pain and deep joy present at the same time.

“I think the essence of the play is a family trying to navigate what feels like overwhelming, absurd and incomprehensible circumstances, and trying to understand what those events mean for them individually and collectively.”

Park pulls details from her own life for "Hannah," though the play holds enough magical realism to not be strictly autobiographical. She admits that she didn't see the correlation between the work and the motive behind writing it until later, according to notes by Diep Tran in OSF's "Illuminations," a guide to the 2017 plays.

In 2010, someone in Park's family committed suicide. While it is Hannah's grandmother's death that kicks off the events of the play, the suicide in Park's family instinctively jump-started her playwriting, and she began "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo."

"I think everything I write on some level is unconscious," she says. "I was working through a lot of questions about my immigrant American identity, my relationship to my family, this traumatic event that occurred and how we tried to make sense of it."

The cast of "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo" features Cindy Im as Hannah, Paul Juhn as Father, Amy Kim Waschke as Mother, Sean Jones as Dang, Eunice Hong as Girl and Jessica Ko as Shapeshifter. All performers play ensemble roles as well.

Director Chay Yew has followed the development of "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo" for some time now.

"I first read this play four years ago,” he says in the press release. “Jiehae was looking for a home for it, and I told her that sometimes the ambition of the play needs to wait for the ambition of the right theater to do it properly. Fast-forward to now, as the Oreogn Shakespeare Festival has taken up that ambition to make this play a reality. I think it is a brilliant fit.

"With this play, Jiehae is exploring, with great humor, what it is to be a contemporary Asian-American trying to claim an identity, which is very complicated," he says. "I think it’s remarkable how she has bridged two worlds. One world is where she left her parents behind in Korea, and the other is America, which is her new home, and of course there is what is in between. At the heart of it, besides the humor, is that everyone can understand what it means to have experienced loss, what happens to family in the wake of that loss, and particularly to this story, what is it to be Korean-American or Korean.”

Scenic design for "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo" is by Collette Pollard, costume design by Sara Ryung Clement, and lighting is by David Weiner. Obadiah Eaves is composer and sound designer; Lue Morgan Douthit is dramaturg, and Rebecca Clark Carey is voice and text director. U. Jonathan Toppo is fight director. Gwen Turos is production stage manager, and Molly Norris is assistant stage manager.

Girl (Eunice Hong), Dang (Sean Jones), Hannah (Cindy Im) and Father (Paul Juhn) await news at the hospital in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 'Hannah and the Dread Gazebo.' [Photo by Jenny Graham]