When the Washington playwriting collective the Welders invited Deb Sivigny to be their resident designer, she was hesitant to accept.
"I already have a lot of designer opportunities," Sivigny explains. "So I asked, 'What if I create a piece?' To my surprise, they said yes. . . . They argue that designers are storytellers as much as those who use words."
That new immersive piece, "Hello, My Name Is . . .," opens at Rhizome D.C. this weekend. And although Sivigny created the dialogue as well as the design, the latter sets the tone for the former. "Hello, My Name Is . . . " moves the audience from room to room in a large house where each space presents a different environment. The show, semi-autobiographical for Sivigny, deals with Korean adoptees adapting to their American homes.
"There's this concept that when you walk through a doorway," Sivigny says, "you forget the world you left behind and enter another world, another life. And if you make that journey physically yourself, it means that much more."
Sivigny was adopted at 5 months old from South Korea by a Taiwanese mother and a European American father in Durham, Conn., part of a tidal wave of 200,000 Korean children adopted by American parents between 1970 and 1990. Sivigny's parents encouraged her to assimilate, and as a grade-schooler, she was glad to do so. As a teenager, however, she started wrestling with questions of identity.
"Many adoptees never get over that feeling of being abandoned and rejected," Sivigny says. "In my play's early scenes, the adoptees don't speak, and that reflects the reality" when they first arrive. "In the second half, when they're teenagers and older, they have a lot to say."
The three Korean children in the play represent three different slices from the spectrum of the adoptee experience, and, Sivigny says, there's a bit of her in each of them. June, who arrived at age 6, came with more memories. Like the author, she's a bibliophile who reads copiously about her homeland. "But when she finally gets to Korea," Sivigny says, "it's not quite what she expected." The playwright had the same reaction when she finally visited South Korea as a 37-year-old in 2015.
The character Dana is adopted into a home of wealth and privilege; her bedroom is a young girl's fantasia of a shopping trip to the mall, and she assimilates more easily than the others. Bryan, by contrast, is adopted into an unhappy lower-middle-class family, and he sleeps in a room that resembles a YMCA hostel more than a teenager's bedroom. As a result, he's angry all the time, and when he's busted for pot, he discovers that he's never been legally adopted and is subject to deportation to a country he's never known.
"I was naturalized at age 2," Sivigny says, "which is what parents are supposed to do. But sometimes it doesn't happen, and the kids aren't U.S. citizens. Bryan represents those who fall through the cracks. In some ways there's not a lot of difference between adoptees and immigrants who come at a young age, especially if the latter were separated from their parents. So a lot of adoptees do identify with the Dream Act kids."
Rhizome D.C., 6950 Maple St. NW. Call 202-630-3781 or visit thewelders.org.
Dates: Friday-Nov. 12.