Photo: Kevin Berne.

The Far Country

Berkeley Rep

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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You know a play got under your skin when you dream about it. And yes, after seeing Lloyd Suh’s spellbinding “The Far Country,” I dreamt I was being questioned by offensive and arrogant American interrogators on Angel Island. Luckily, I quickly woke up and went on with my day. But the worldwide experience of immigrants’ biased treatment in their new land doesn’t disappear so readily.

Lloyd Suh universalizes three generations of one family’s Chinese American immigration story into the journeys of all our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. With Jennifer Chang’s able direction, an outstanding cast, terrific staging, lighting, and design, “The Far Country” deserved to be a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

“The Far Country” begins in San Francisco in 1909 during the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), where a Chinese man, Gee (excellent Feodor Chin), tries to establish his American birthright. The 1906 earthquake has destroyed all his records, he explains to a doubting and dubious white questioner (John Keabler), with his interpreter (Aaron Wilton). Gee needs to solidify this status through his oral testimony so he can travel to China and return with his son to San Francisco. His confidence, bonhomie, and command of English undoubtedly helped his cause since we next see Gee in Taishan, China.

But it’s not as we expect. Gee is not there to visit his family. He’s there to convince Low (outstanding Tess Lina), a poor widow but a proud and loving mother, to allow her teenage son, Moon Gyet (wonderful Tommy Bo), to travel with Gee to America — to the “Golden Mountain.” Moon Gyet must pretend to be Gee’s biological son and memorize endless details about his home, school, and surroundings to enter the US as a “paper son.” Of course, there is a steep price to pay for such a trip. Both mother and son will spend years paying back Gee and a money lender in China. They decide that the emotional cost is much greater but worth the price.

After a harrowing, well-staged sea voyage, Moon Gyet is subjected to lengthy detention on Angel Island, with cruel and bitter interrogations designed to break his story of being Gee’s son. The dreadful detention at Angel Island is artfully symbolized by the Chinese poetry the detainees/ prisoners wrote on the walls, which were covered up with putty and paint, but ultimately reasserted themselves as though the Chinese characters demanded to be seen (lighting by Minjoo Kim).

Eventually, Moon Gyet finds a wife in China, a modern, cheeky Yuen (wonderful Sharon Shao). Both women in “The Far Country” possess admirable strength of character. I wish they had been given a more significant role in this drama.

“The Far Country,” as much a tone poem as a play, delves into many fundamental immigration issues. The connection to one’s name and lineage, the struggle with painful memories, and the importance of remembrance are all sensitively explored in this powerful play. The final wall of happy family photos brings the three-generational story to a bittersweet conclusion since we know the cost behind those smiling faces.

“The Far Country” was commissioned by New York’s Atlantic Theater Company. It premiered there in 2022.

“The Far Country” runs through April 14, 2024, at Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. It is approximately two hours and 10 minutes long, including one intermission. Masks are encouraged but optional for performances from Wednesday through Saturday. Mask-wearing is required in the theatre on all Sundays (matinees and evenings) and Tuesdays. Post-show discussions and closed captioning are available at specific performances. Tickets $22.50–$134, subject to change, can be purchased online at or by phone at 510.647.2949.
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By Emily S. Mendel
© Emily S. Mendel 2024 All Rights Reserved

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