Miss This Saigon

Worse than Titanic yet still floating

Things aren't easy for Kim and Chris, either. He loses her in the frantic closing moments of the Marine withdrawal from the U.S. embassy in Saigon—he's forced into the helicopter, and Kim is left behind. Chris returns home, doesn't speak for a year, and then, in a rather remarkable recovery, meets someone else, falls in love and gets married.

Meanwhile, back at the reeducation ranch, Kim's life sucks. She's got a kid, who is Chris', and is keeping him hidden, from whom we're never quite sure. Her cousin, to whom she is betrothed, finds her after three years and demands that she marry him. She refuses—remember, she's bumped uglies with an American and thus has a higher purpose than fidelity to her father's wishes—and shoots him. With the help of the Engineer, Kim and her son flee to Bangkok, where they hope they can use her meal ticket—that is, her half-American son—to obtain U.S. visas.

By this time, Chris has discovered he has a child. And for the first time in this play, the guy finally does the right thing and decides to fly to Bangkok to meet his offspring. But the reason leads back to the strain of arrogance in this play: the kid is half-American, and, thus, a real American has a duty to save him, unlike the hundreds of thousands of pure-blood Vietnamese children who are also victims of war. Written by French people about Americans in Vietnam, it's painfully obvious that colonial bias lives on long after the colony is gone.

Speaking of the French, the Engineer gets a most fitting line in this play. He says he learned something very important from the French—how to cover up a stench: you just lay on the perfume. And there is more cloying perfume surrounding Miss Saigon than just about any musical to date. And while it's apparently quite easy to get intoxicated by the stuff, the rotten core of this show—the most glaring and grating example of late-20th-century-art-as-commercial-spectacle since the movie Titanic—is quite perceptible for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Miss Saigon at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2122. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Through Sept. 25. $41-$66; tickets for partial-view seating are $16-$26; $20 student rush tickets available one hour prior to performance, except on Saturday nights.

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