How to be a storyteller

Sun Mee Chomet revisits “How to Be a Korean Woman” at the Guthrie Theater, sharing her story of adoption and how to grapple with identity.

Sun Mee Chomet rehearses for How to Be a Korean Woman, a one-woman show written by Chomet in front of the Dowling Studio Theater at the Guthrie Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013.

Ichigo Takikawa

Sun Mee Chomet rehearses for “How to Be a Korean Woman,” a one-woman show written by Chomet in front of the Dowling Studio Theater at the Guthrie Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013.

by Joe Kellen

One person shows can be self-indulgent and monotonous. Devoting eighty minutes to a single voice sometimes begs the question, “Why does this need to have an audience?”

Actor and playwright Sun Mee Chomet answers this question and then some.

In 2010, Chomet was on “I Miss That Person,” a South Korean reality TV show that reunites people with long lost relatives. Chomet, a Korean adoptee, didn’t know how to feel when she met her birth mother for the first time.

“It was about my sanity,” she said. “We think that if we find our birth parents, somehow we would feel whole. But when I found my birth family, I was actually more confused than I was before.”

This caused something of an identity crisis for Chomet. The only way for her to understand the paradigm shift was to write.

Three years later, “How to Be a Korean Woman” is enjoying a third run, this time in the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.

The piece details Chomet’s search for her birth family through storytelling. She embodies every character in the show from her social worker to her birth family, reliving the memories in real time on stage.

It’s emotionally taxing to say the least.

“To me, it’s an act of generosity. There are so many adoptees out searching, but we don’t have any role models. Not only for how to navigate searching, but to navigate these feelings,” Chomet said.

She found this to be particularly true after taking the show to Korea. She performed the piece for more than 300 adoptees at a conference for adults searching for their birth parents.

They praised her for her honesty about international adoption — Chomet’s birth family had been searching for her for 30 years.

“In the U.S. we’re told this happy coming home story, but we don’t know about the repercussions on the birth family,” she said.

After seeing how deeply her story affected others, Chomet wanted to expose the work to a larger audience.

Director and dramaturg Zaraawar Mistry has worked with Chomet from the beginning.

“It’s dangerous territory in some ways because you’re dealing with fragile issues and there’s so much risk for pain. We had to work carefully,” he said. “But it’s where the power of the pieces lies, this emotion.”

Chomet realized she wasn’t the only one who’s had this sort of experience. She created a companion blog for the show, and audience members can contribute to it via computer stations in the theater’s lobby. It’s designed to be a place for everyone to share their stories about finding family.

“Even if we all feel alone, we can realize that we all feel alone together,” Chomet said.

In a nutshell, this is the nature of her piece. It is the experience of a performer sharing a deeply personal event in the hopes that it will resonate with someone.

Mistry said that the simplicity is the secret.

“It calls for almost nothing. It calls for an actor telling the story, so our set, our lights, our technical elements — they’re all very minimal,” he said. “The rest is Sun Mee.”


What: “How to Be a Korean Woman”

When: Sept 19-24,

 7:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., Sunday

Where: The Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd Street, Minneapolis

Cost: $15-30