May 4, 2015

A newspaper article fired Don Nguyen’s imagination: A group of women in Vietnam, shunned by their society, gathered together to stave off fear and loneliness with laughter. All of them were H.I.V. positive, and to many in their culture, their virus was cause for shame. Laughter is not a strong suit of Mr. Nguyen’s jumbled and ambitious “Red Flamboyant,” the play that article inspired, but defiance is. With medicine scarce and the mortality rate high, the women must fight for themselves or surely die. For emboldenment, they look to the legend of Trung Nhi and Trung Trac, female warriors out of Vietnam’s glorious, far-distant past. These are the overlapping worlds of Mr. Nguyen’s play, which is both earthbound and shot through with romanticism. Some of his characters — Mrs. Hue (Nancy Sun), who owns the house where the women live, and Mrs. Sau (Karen Huie), a generation or more older than the others and a link to the country’s history — bear the same names as the women in the article, and the play is least successful when most wedded to it. Then the humor is forced, and so are the tensions.