Han Nah

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater


Since the celebrated television series M*A*S*H ended its 13-year run in 1983, rarely, if ever, has the Korean War been the focus of a script – not for TV, in film or on stage. It’s little wonder that that mid-century Asian conflict is referred to as either The Unknown War or The Forgotten War. Seldom is the Korean War celebrated; infrequently is it commemorated, even though the death toll from that calamitous clash is estimated to be at more than 1,500,000.

Now, however, in a one-woman show – written and performed by Joy Cha and ably directed by Gary Lee Reed – that long-ago struggle is recalled in a 70-minute play titled Hah Nah. Hah Nah Song is the name of the character so affectively portrayed by Cha.  She is a Korean-American serving as a nurse in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) unit near her father’s hometown of Kaesung.

Above and beyond her demanding duties as a combat RN, Hah Nah has a personal mission. She wishes to reunite with her father who has been missing for five years since he left their Los Angeles home to return to the house he owned in Korea, which was liberated from the Japanese subsequent to World War Two. Now, though, that house is located above the 38th Parallel, which puts the property under the authority of the communist regime of North Korea.

Not only is Hah Nah challenged by the cruel Korean winter, she may also face a court martial if she pursues her father’s trail into the North. What’s more, Hah Nah becomes the object of the would-be affections of two American soldiers who proclaim their love for her.

The time and place is well evoked (set design by Gary Lee Reed). The uniforms are period perfect (costumer is not credited), and vintage film footage appropriately placed between scene changes adds to the historic ambiance of the proceedings. There are many flashbacks, such as to the attack on Pearl  Harbor, in 1941. The sounds (by designer Corwin Evans) and the lighting (by Brandon Baruch) underscore the inherent drama on display in Hah Nah. Further, original music by violinist Kangwon Lee Kim truly tugs at our heartstrings.

Still, it would be a more fulfilling theatrical experience if all the parts were cast and the show were turned into a more traditional two-act play. Though Cha effectively plays to her imaginary characters, it would be more dynamic and dramatic to have living actors embody the other roles. Not only would this provide more energy for the effort, we in the audience wouldn’t have to strain so much in order to suspend our disbelief.

Hah Nah continues at The Lounge Theatre 2 – 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood – through November 25. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (323) 391-4694. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.hahnah.com.