The Dallas Theater Center was founded in 1959. More than six decades later, Oscar Seung is the first Asian-American man to appear in the Tony Award-winning theater. He plays a North Korean teenager who becomes Kim Jong-un in the world premiere of Don X. Nguyen The supreme guide, on view through November 21 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas.
“I can’t believe it’s me. I can’t believe I can do it. I’m completely flabbergasted, ”Seung said. “At the same time, I’m like, ‘Why did it take so long?'”
The comedy imagines Kim Jong-un’s final year in boarding school in Switzerland before he returns to North Korea to face his fate. Seung recognizes parallels in his immigrant story and the experience of the North Korean teenager. Born in Switzerland, the Dallas-based actor, violinist, pianist, opera singer and music director was eight years old when his family moved to Arlington in 1993.
While researching for the show, Seung realized that his paths and those of Kim Jong-un might have crossed had his family remained in Switzerland. “In fact, he visited Lausanne, where I grew up, three years after I left for the United States,” Seung said.
Seung never felt out of place anywhere as a kid growing up in America, much like Kim Jong-un in boarding school. “He’s in Western culture, he’s in a foreign country and is very Korean. And I know exactly what it is. I know exactly what it’s like to suddenly be in a place where the expectations are different, the dress is different, the language is different, for heaven’s sake and I understand what it’s like not to fit the mold, ”Seung said.
The young “Oony” is torn between the expectations of his father communicated by his babysitter and his charming American friend Sophie. “Your whole life has been fundamentally decided. The second he was next, that was it, ”Seung said. “It’s something we all have to deal with, it’s spending our lives meeting the expectations of society and family or do we become self-aware enough and maybe strong enough to ask the question: what do i want? Who am I? Am I brave enough to challenge expectations and pursue what I really want in life? “
The wealthy teenager grapples with the awkwardness of puberty: a first crush, a complicated parenting relationship, conflicting friendships, and the angst of issues with his body confidence. “Money is not a concern for him. Nothing really worries him, ”Seung said. “And yet you see that he has all the difficulties of an ordinary teenager. This stuff doesn’t go away because you have the money.
Playwright Don X. Nguyen was in rehearsal throughout the process. “It was a dream,” Seung said. “I can literally walk up to him in rehearsal and say, ‘Don, help. What’s going on here? Tell me your thought process. And he has an answer for everything. For every question, every question, he has an answer. And an incredible and insightful answer to that. It is priceless.
Nguyen uses comedy to explore difficult questions about life choices, immigrant history, and fake news. A scene illustrates the origin of fake news. “Every night this scene gives me chills,” Seung said. “I understand. I understand how people can succumb to it. I understand, but I don’t want to get it.
Although the show is a comedy, it takes an emotionally dramatic turn at the end. “The script is incredibly funny,” Seung said. “But you can actually see him become Kim Jong-un.”
In addition to playing the main role, The supreme guide This is the first time Seung has shared a stage on stage with fellow Asian American actor Albert Park, who plays the teenager’s guardian. It’s a breakthrough in Seung’s career, and the portrayal is important to the AAPI (Asia American and Pacific Islander) arts community.
“That says everything. It took 24 years for me to have the courage to continue acting because I’ve never seen a person like me on stage, on screen, anywhere, ”said Seung. “So the implicit message was that I have no room. I have no place here. I don’t want another Asian American artist to have these doubts, have this internal dialogue, demean or invalidate their own voice and their own experience. No, your voice is valid. You have a place in the arts. You can make a place for yourself and make your way as an actor, as an artist in 2021. “
In 2020, the AAPI community faced an increase in acts of racist violence against Asian Americans. The violence led to Seung having a difficult conversation with his parents. “Please don’t go out. You could be killed because of your appearance. What? Why would I have this conversation in the land of the free, in the land of immigrants? Seung said.
His parents saw The supreme guide when he was in preview. It was the first time they had seen their son play a three-dimensional human being with a full range of emotions. “For the first time in their lives, they were actually speechless,” Seung said. “They were completely stunned by the end of the show.”
Seung thinks about the long days his parents worked to help him become an artist. He hopes immigrants see hope for the future in his work. “For immigrant families, you are really seen. You are loved. You are validated. And you really belong to you, ”Seung said. “You have a house here.”
Learn more: https://www.dallastheatercenter.org/