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'Heard': High-Energy Look at Korean American Experience


In "Have You Heard '96," Soon-Tek Oh's Society of Heritage Performers and Don Kim's Korean Classical Music and Dance Company explore the Korean American experience while skewering Hollywood and Korean Americans themselves. The nine pieces of skit comedy, drama, instrumental music and dance at the Unity Arts Center have great energy but sometimes lack focus or become carried away in pedantic excess.

Oh's "Hello, Hello, Yobo-se Yo (Let's Chase the Demons Out!)" is half Mickey Mouse Club introduction of the players and half self-congratulatory pontification. Director R.C. Fleet indulges the ego-booster feeling, letting the flow drag to honor each grand announcement or let the audience take notes on this "history of the world of theater" lecture.


If you can stand another Gump parody, Philip W. Chung's "Forrest Kim" is good fun. "Life is like a jar of kimchi; you never know which piece is going to give you heartburn," declares Tim Lounibos (who also directs) in his dead-on portrayal of Forrest. You almost don't mind the 100 years of Korean American history that whirl by.

"How to Be an American in One Easy Lesson," also by Chung, has Uncle Samsung (Edward Kim) giving the newly arrived Kim family guidance in acculturation with two lifestyle options: Become hip-hop hip and speak rapper-ese like Ice Kim Chee (Ivy Yee) and Hip Hop Sing (Pierre Y. Lim) or become materialistic and pretentious like Iacocca Lee (Lounibos) and his daughter Sarah Lee (Grace Jun).

Clever phrases ("He's whiter than Wonder Bread vacationing in the Arctic") abound, but so do wild tangents. The suggestion of an almost incestuous affection between the Lees isn't necessary and the inclusion of the militant Korean (Jeanne Chinn) seems tacked on. Director Oh successfully counterbalances the ridiculous affectations of the pseudo-homies and the Lees' slick superficiality.

Marcia (Sharline Liu) gets hit on the nose with a football and Greg (John Cho) falls in love with a Korean American member of the Unification Church (Chinn) in Chung's delightfully corny "The Brady Bunch (The Lost Episodes)." Even non-Brady Bunch fans can appreciate the overly bright (and awfully clothed) Bradys as directed by Lounibos.

Family ties dissolve after the Park family wins Super Lotto in So Hyun Chang's hilarious "The American Dream (A Lotto Arirang)." Father (Oh), mother (Liu) and Namsa (C.W. Pyun) play well off one another in this slapstick piece, whimsically directed by Oh.

The claustrophobic nature of Asian ethnic communities is dissected in Chung's "The 1.5 Show With Bob & Sunny." Bob (Cho) and Sunny (Chinn) are narcissistic, pampered Korean-born young Americans who have managed to land a television show despite a low talent ratio. Fleet's direction gives full rein to the rambling nature of Chung's script.

And while Chung's wild meanderings wonderfully convey the amateurish nature of some ethnic television shows, they are less appropriate in the angry, overly strident "Home Is Where the Han Is." It's another history lesson, but less enchanting than the first. Mr. Yim (Oh) is taken into a kangaroo court.

There's a somewhat insensitive comparison between African Americans and Koreans--can four decades of colonization by Japanese imperialists really compare with a couple of centuries of genocide and slavery? According to Chung, these are "two groups with histories of similar oppression" and in America they've become "communities pitted against each other by the powers that be." Yet another conspiracy theory.

* "Have You Heard '96," Unity Arts Center, 412 S. Park View, Los Angeles. Today-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. Ends Sunday. $10. (213) 993-7245. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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