When What Will You Do To Survive Is The Only Choice You Can Make!
Tapped in a war where estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, execution and disease, Victory Gardens Theater, Cambodian Rock Band asked the question, “What would you do to survive?” It seems like a strange question to ask coming from a play with the words rock band, but Lauren Yee's interesting mixture of music fused with history, politics, family drama, and horrific war, the combination seems to work.
Cambodian Rock Band's, primary focus on how a Cambodian-American young lady feverishly seeks to piece together the history of her family to gain the respect of her father. While preparing for a news briefing regarding finding the eight survivors of the Khmer Rouge, she gets a surprise visit from her father. Shocked Neary (Aja Wiltshire) tries to cover up her living conditions with her boyfriend Leng, (Matthew C Yee) he
is Taiwanese and her unyielding desire to put away a man by the name of Duch (Rammel Chan) who is one of the leaders in the Khmer Rouge genocide, which her father Chum (Greg Watanabe) disapproves of her efforts.
During her search for the unknown 8th survivor, she stumbles upon a picture with the words “Keep for use, for now,” which only a few people in Neary inter-circle knew the last two words. However during her conversation with her father who is hoping to bring her daughter back home with him and remove her from the International team prosecuting Duch’ she is shocked to hear him quote the entire saying listed on the picture. After contemplating how would her father know the words, she quickly discovers that the 8th unknown survivor is her dad.
She questions him, and he continuously denies it. Neary frustrated and convinced he is the 8th survivor disappears and her father, Chum finally decides to tell her his amazing true-life story of being a prisoner in one of the horrific detention center, called S-21.
Cambodian Rock Band is a compelling story about how Pol Pot, a political leader of the communist Khmer Rouge government killed an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians. Chan who is the narrator and evil antagonist named, Duch transports us back to when a group of young Cambodians who were part of a Phnom Penh rock group seeking to record their Cambodian style pop music. Chum, who begs his family to stay one more week so he can worship at the temple, uses the fictitious story so he can record with his band before they leave. Chum's lie to his parents will be a fatal error he will soon regret, as things in Cambodia take an astonishing shift and The Khmer Rouge changes his life forever.
Lauren Yee foresight to bring music into such a tragic historical event may seem confusing, however as Artistic Director Chay Yew states, her profound sense of bringing the resilience and enduring power of art and music allows us to have hope during tragedy and universal love when hate has invaded our soul.
Few Americans today, know about the story of Pol Pot who was a political leader whose communist Khmer Rouge government, the millions killed or the detention center of S-21. Few have seen “The Killing Fields, First They Killed My Father or read the documentary S21, The Khmer Rouge Death Machine and those who have seen it have allowed this horrific part of history to fade away as if it never happened. Yee’s triumphant storyline of horror, humor, and music brings life to those who can’t speak again. Stories like Cambodian Rock Band should be taught around the world to end hatred.
Rammel Chan does an amazing dual role performance of Narrator and playing the part of Duch. His ability to go from joyous to Judas is uncanny and yet powerful and persuasive; to a point where you forget he is evil Duch. Greg Watanabe was astounding. He brilliantly plays the role of Chum to perfection. There were times when we felt like we were actually in the detention center S-21. He embodied Chum and made him present day real; which few can accomplish. Aja Wiltshire as the wayward daughter Neary who is persistent and somewhat belligerent in her desires to get revenge for her father was outstanding. Rounding off the main cast were Matthew Yee, Eileen Doran, and Peter Sipla.
Director Marti Lyons, who previously directed Native Gardens at VG, is currently in the process of directing “How To Defend Yourself" which will also be at Victory Garden Theater. Lyons helps bring to life this play/concert from featured actor/musicians who perform a mix of contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies. We felt that the music at times interrupted the natural flow of the play; however it doesn’t lessen its power.
The name, Cambodian Rock Band, can be a little misleading on how powerful and provocative this play/concert delivers. The notorious account of only seven of the roughly 20,000 people known to have survived and close to 2 million deaths are brought visibility to the invisible.
What will you do to survive? Will you do the unimaginable? Two questions that we hope you will never have to answer and two questions many wish they never had to make.
Let’s Play Highly Recommends Cambodian Rock Band at Victory Garden Theater.
Victory Gardens Theater Presents
with City Theatre Company and Merrimack Repertory Theatre
the Chicago Premiere of
Cambodian Rock Band
By Lauren Yee
Directed by Marti Lyons
Featuring Songs by Dengue Fever
April 5 – May 5, 2019
Filed under: ChicagoNow