By MRT Cohort
When you arrive in the theatre, you will see a sparse, stark set except for microphones and band instruments. There is a truss – steel beams with hanging lights and audio equipment. The black rolling trunks filled with “outfits and props” allow the actors to perform story changes on stage. And, there is music of many artists including Dengue Fever, the American band from LA that has played Cambodian psychedelic rock and popular music of the 60’s and 70 ’s from 2001 to the present.
The music fills the MRT theatre to tell one story of Khmer Rouge, the brutal regime of the Cambodian genocide under the leadership of Pol Pot, which resulted in the deaths of about 2 million people from 1975 to 1979, nearly a quarter of Cambodian’s population.
If you are confused by these two seemingly different connections, you will be moved by the intertwining relationships of people within these cultures and times performed by amazingly talented actors.
At the opening of the play lights flood the theatre and the music is loud and not understood, unless you are Cambodian and speak Khmer – the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language. Soon, you will soon understand the power and strength of the story that is about to unfold.
The play brings forth the history of 1975 when the US pulled out of Vietnam…as the music ceases, a savage song expresses the rise of Vietnam entering Cambodia for destruction of the forces. During this time, the Khmer regime attempts to erase music and musicians once and for all. So, the music, then stillness, on stage, serves as the background of fear, silence, and horrifying violence.
At the heart of this is a dramatic, angry, loving relationship between a Cambodian father, residing in NYC, who visits his daughter while she is doing research work in Cambodia. Try to imagine the impact of their time together reflecting his history of war and genocide, filled with secrets, with her seeking fulfillment of his distant past. It becomes both terrifying and loving, as only it can be when we learn our parents are more than we knew them to be.
As the story unwinds, the music rocks, the dancing vibrates and we understand, not the words perhaps, but rather the way music can bring forth the history, comedy, and mystery of this outstanding play by Lauren Yee, and we understand how it is she has won so many awards.
The talent of the actors, musicians, stage direction, lighting, sound and director is riveting. So, if you have not yet seen this “unabashed jukebox musical concert” (Broadway World), to celebrate the resilient bond of family and enduring power of music, please do so before it leaves MRT November 10th after the Sunday Matinee.
Gail Gauthier, MRT Cohort