Quote of the Day: I don’t personally think it’s a show about cancer; I think it’s about breaking barriers to realize and find the things one needs in life to feel whole. from an interview, printed in the program guide, with Katie Ka Vang, playwright for the new musical Again, featuring Asian American artists, specifically telling a story from the Hmong perspective about cancer, relationships, reconciliation and the power of hope. Music and lyrics by Melissa Li. This creative team has produced an engaging, poignant, humorous and tender story of facing some of life’s toughest challenges. 

Dexieng Yang (Mai See) showing off her elephant foot embroidery to Pagnia Xiong (Shia). Photo: Rich Ryan

I’m always excited to experience a new play or musical and welcome the chance to support new work. When I got the invitation to view and review Again at theater Mu, I immediately put this show on my must-see list. Katie Ka Vang drew from personal experience when she first started to develop this play. She and Melissa Li worked together to make it a dynamic, fun, and caring musical about the cancer journey, life, and relationships. 

Pagnia Xiong (Shia, on the left) and Dexieng Yang (Mai See) sitting back to back as they go through old things. Photo: Rich Ryan

Mai See (Dexieng Yang) is in remission from cancer. She wrote her memoir, which ends up inspiring a younger woman, Quest (Melody Her) to seek her out and produce a film documentary of her own. We learn that Quest is also fighting cancer. The two women bond and share their stories. Mai See is estranged from her older sister Shia (Pagnia Xiong) who was her main caregiver. Aaron Komo plays both Mai’s coworker Broc and a Doc who cares for her. He has many great scenes, including a hilarious song with Shia called Santorini and one that is a dream scene where he’s a snail, carrying his house on his back. Komo’s characters added much levity to this otherwise serious theme.

Aaron Komo (Broc/Doc) bringing over a stool to talk to Dexieng Yang (Mai See), who is trying to write. Photo: Rich Ryan

The humor and the music bring lightness to the over arcing theme of cancer and family conflict. I cared about these characters from the first scene when Mai and her sister Shia talk about their symbols, the elephant foot and the snail. The snail theme of carrying your house on your back spreads throughout the play. I thought of how transient many people are. In this case, their Hmong ancestors who had to move from one community to another, their parents who left their home country, lived in refugee camps, and finally settled in a new country. I thought of the sisters and how their relationship changed when they lost their parents and one of them got cancer. I thought of how I’ve moved around, too, and the image of that snail with a back made me think of plans to carry my possessions in a backpack for an upcoming pilgrimage.

Melody Her (Quest, on the right) trying to talk to Pagnia Xiong (Shia, in the background), through an intercom system. Photo: Rich Ryan

This musical is very relatable. We all know someone whose life has been affected by a cancer diagnosis, who have gone on that difficult journey, and have lost loved ones. We all have had moments of strife in our relationships, been annoyed with a sister, or brother, or parent. And, we’ve (hopefully) had moments of reconciliation.

Again is a beautiful, humorous, thoughtful story of love, family, illness and hope. I was wishing for a cast recording so I could hear the songs again. The performers were all excellent. Especially notable are the vocals by Pagnia Xiong, who has an extensive career in music. Nana Dakin directs this wonderful, new musical. Music direction by Denise Prosek and Orchestrator Bronwen Chan. The actors perform with a live band, behind the backdrop on stage, who did an excellent job with this score. Choreography by Sandy Agustin. Costume design by Khamphian Vang. Set design by Alice Endo had rotating panels to depict the various locations. The lighting (design by Erik Paulson) also enhanced the stage and showed different locations for the scenes. It was a great way to use the smaller stage and still get a feel for various scene locations.

Pagnia Xiong (Shia) dancing with Aaron Komo as she day dreams, with Dexieng Yang (Mai See) looking on. Photo: Rich Ryan

You can see Again by Theater Mu at the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis, MN through April 16, 2023. Visit their website for tickets and showtimes and to see ways to support this great theater. They also have merchandise for sale. I bought the journal with the image and saying, “We carry our homes on our backs.” They also have a raffle for the script. Click on Theater Mu Merch. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Write about the places you’ve lived, or journeys you’ve been on.