Among the Dead is the story of Ana (played with a grounded pathos by Malia Hu), a young Korean American woman in 1975 who arrives in a hotel room in Seoul with a box of her recently deceased father’s ashes, as well a multitude of questions about her own family history. Upon receiving a gift from the hotel’s mysterious handyman Jesus (yes, that Jesus, played with an easygoing charm by Colin Huerta), time and space begin to fracture around her in a gloriously surreal joyride. Catapulted back into the past as her white American father (a textured and tortured performance from Sam Boeck) and her Korean mother (the incredibly charismatic yet tragic Jin Park) first meet, both stranded in the jungle at the end of World War II, Ana must puzzle through the tumultuous sequence of political, social, and interpersonal factors that led to her own existence.
Hansol Jung’s script does excellent work combining unsettling surreality with hilariously relatable characterization, and Kaiser Ahmed’s direction ratchets up the tension and mystery with ease. The incredible set design from Paloma Locsin is on its face simple and straightforward, consisting of little more than a normal 1970’s hotel room. As the show unfolds, however, interactive elements across the set subvert their functions at key moments, shocking the audience and keeping us on our toes.
The lighting design from Samuel Stephen deserves particular praise for so effectively creating the show’s surreal atmosphere. The contrast between the everyday yellowish-white wash of the hotel room and the vibrant colors, wild moods, and otherworldly emotions of Ana’s time-bending journey couldn’t be more stark.
For all its time-and-space-bending mind-fuckery, however, at the end of the day Among the Dead is telling a deceptively simple story; that of Ana attempting to heal from a trauma that she didn’t even know her father had unjustly passed down to her. At its core, the show is about the catastrophic decisions of one deeply damaged man, their far-reaching consequences, and how to heal from them. The fact that we are shown this story through the lens of a gripping and spooky thrill ride, sprinkled with mind-blowing twists and heartwarming humor, is not just a nice added bonus but a thematic necessity. Uncovering these types of secrets in this cruel and chaotic world, Among the Dead seems to say, is always going to be unnerving, uncomfortable, even horrifying. But the deep satisfaction of the resulting catharsis cannot be argued with – making this show an absolute must-see.
Among the Dead runs at Jackalope Theatre until December 11th.
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San Boeck (Luke)
Malia Hu (Ana)
Colin Huerta (Jesus)
Jin Park (Number Four)
Hansol Jung (playwright)
Kaiser Ahmed (director)
Monét Felton (associate director)
Paloma Locsin (scenic designer)
Isaac Pineda (costume designer)
Samuel Stephen (lighting designer)
Quinn Chisenhall (master electrician)
Michael Huey (sound designer)
Sheryl Williams (intimacy/fight choreographer)
Catherine Miller (casting director)
Isabelle Cheng (dramaturg)
Anna Brockway (stage manager)
Josh Derby (asst. stage manager)
Photo credit: Joel Maisonet