Four years ago, South Coast Repertory broke new theatrical ground with “Vietgone,” playwright Qui Nguyen’s semi-factual account of his parents’ experience as Vietnamese refugees adapting to their new life in America.
Now, six fictional years have passed and they're back in “Poor Yella Rednecks” — like “Vietgone” a world premiere at SCR — and they’re making the most of it in a foreign land called Arkansas where El Dorado rhymes with Laredo.
Times are tough and life is tougher as both Tong (Maureen Sebastian) and her husband, Quang (Tim Chiou), encounter money problems and temptations in this rousing sequel cleverly directed by May Adrales.
It’s a return visit for Sebastian and Adrales — they all helped create “Vietgone,” along with supporting actors Paco Tolson, who also interprets the playwright/narrator character, and Samantha Quan, who does impressive double, triple and even quadruple duty.
Tong and Quang have a young son now — played by a puppet animated by two other actors (shades of “Avenue Q”) and known only as “Little Man.” He finds assimilation quite difficult, although he’ll grow up to be the playwright, Qui Nguyen.
Quan’s sexy Texas character provides steamy distraction for Chiou, while Tong tinkers with the awkward Bobby, played by Tolson. Chiou does a credible job of showing compassion for his wife and children back in Vietnam while fiercely maintaining his love for Tong.
Of the company, Sebastian shines most brightly as she navigates the challenges posed by a culture she struggles to comprehend. And she excels in a martial arts face-off with two store employees who’ve caught her shoplifting — an incident the writer says is based in fact.
The most colorful figure, however, is Quan’s rendition of Tong’s feisty, foul-mouthed mother who’s determined that her grandson cling to his heritage. Her character has picked up just a little English, primarily the four-letter words.
The hip-hop vocal style popularized in “Hamilton” is employed throughout this production, though not quite as prominently. Lawrence Kao is credited as “hip-hop consultant.”
Arnulfo Maldonado’s multi-scene setting is imaginative, while Lap Chi Chu’s lighting design and the costumes created by Valérie Thérèse Bart increase the atmospheric effect.
Whether or not you’ve seen “Vietgone,” the rousing, often-ribald “Poor Yella Rednecks” stands on its own as abundantly entertaining. It’s a taste of clashing cultures with a whiff of factual flavor at South Coast Repertory.
IF YOU GO
What: “Poor Yella Rednecks”
Where: South Coast Repertory Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Tuesdays through Sundays at varying curtain times until April 27
Cost: Start at $23
Information: (714) 708-5555; scr.org
Tom Titus reviews local theater for TimesOC.