Yilong Liu’s Good Enemy explores willful forgetting, connection, and betrayal through an Asian American lens, but these themes apply across cultures and generations. The play, originally written for the stage and adapted to audio format through a collaboration with Audible, interweaves two stories. One is about an undercover police officer Hao (Tim Liu) scouting out a club during the Cultural Revolution in China, and the other is about an estranged dad, Howard (Francis Jue), who goes on a cross-country road trip to visit his daughter Momo (Geena Quintos), while dragging her ex-boyfriend, Dave (Alec Silver), along for the eventful ride. The stories collide in a revelatory, though perhaps not the most unexpected, way that questions the essence of an enemy and the fragility of allegiances.
Is it fair to label someone as an enemy before you truly know them? This label relies on a sense of superiority and a level of dehumanization that breaks down once you interact with them face to face. Suddenly, when Hao connects with Jiahua (Jeena Yi), someone who is supposedly “an enemy,” he realizes she and her people might not be the evil forces he was trained to think they were. But even when the conflict lines span across seemingly more trivial interpersonal barriers, the tendency to assume worst intentions can prove to be life-threatening, as evidenced by the scuffle between Dave and Howard. They’re both so engrossed in why they think they’re right that it’s difficult to see the other person’s point of view. And while the interactions are dramatized, they illustrate the physical and emotional harm that can come from immediately demonizing the other party, even if–especially if–that other party is someone you’re close to.
There’s a tangible, or rather, audible, emotional barrier between Howard and Momo, built in part by Howard’s insistence on erasing his traumatic past. He does so primarily to protect himself, but he convinces himself it’s because it’s useless to ruminate on the past. Momo feels like she’s never been able to know who her parents were before they were her parents, and with every dismissed question about her father’s past, the emotional barrier grows larger and larger. And though this emotional chasm begets animosity on both sides, the play offers us a way to bridge the gap (hint: it involves unpacking one’s trauma). It also presents a contrasting relationship: the unexpected camaraderie between Howard and Momo’s new boyfriend, who, despite not being able to communicate in Chinese, is able to bond with the older Asian man over shared music tastes. The disconnection explored in this play is one that many of us have experienced, especially in immigrant families where an undesirable past cannot be separated from the hope for a better future. And even though repairing broken or bent relationships is slow, hard work, the play assures us that every effort is worth it.