An American Immigrant Story

Glenn: If you think about it, Superman is the ultimate American illegal immigrant story: He leaves his family and everything he knows behind him, to make an arduous journey to a new homeland. Once there, he suceeds due to the special characteristics of his homeland, combined with hard work. But he lives a dual life: there is the All-American face he portrays, and his secret of being an illegal immigrant. His only weakness is when he is presented with relics of his homeland.

Vuthy: Yes, but Superman was white. If he had been an Asian baby left on the side of the road of the 1930s, the Kents would have turned him into Social Services, not kept him as their own.

Glenn: I guess you’re right.

The above is a (paraphrased) dialogue from the excellent play we saw this afternoon at the Colony Theatre: the West Coast premier of “Year Zero“, written by Michael Golamco. Year Zero tells the story of a first generation Cambodian family living in Long Beach in the spring of 2003 (Long Beach, if you are unaware, is home to one of the largest Cambodian communities outside of Cambodia). The mother, who escaped the Kmher Rouge through an arduous journey, has just died. Her daughter, Ra, has returned to the family apartment to pack up her belongings and arrange for the care of her younger brother, Vuthy, a sophmore at Lakewood High School. Vuthy is a lonely 16-year-old who loves hip hop and Dungeons & Dragons (in fact, he DMs a game during the show). Also involved with the family is Han, a member for the major Cambodian gang TRG, who has just been released from prison. Han was once close to Ra, but since Ra has gone off to UC Berkeley, they have drifted apart. Also involved in the story is Glenn, Ra’s Chinese boyfriend (the Chinese, at least according to the play, consider themselves above the Cambodians) who comes down unasked to help. Ra’s mother, it turns out, has never opened up to either Vuthy or Ra about the escape from Cambodia, but she has spoken about it to Han, who also escaped when he was little. The basic question of the story is what is going to happen to these people: Will Han return to the gang? Will Ra dump Glenn and go with Han? Will Vuthy stay in Long Beach, and likely get involved with the gang, or will he return to Berkeley with Ra and Glenn?

The artistic director, in her write-up introducing this play, wrote “Here was a traditional American immigrant story taht explored the timeless issues of cultural memory and assimilation, but in a community many of us know absolutely nothing about. More important (to me), I believed in these people, I cared about them.” That’s what makes this play a resounding success: the writing, the acting, and the directing made me care about this family. The people were ultimately good, and I wanted to know them and know what happened to them after the play ended. I also learned about that community and its customs, as well as what a dual life they led. Wonderful wonderful story.

The direction of this play was excellent. David Rose did a great job of making the actors come across as 100% realistic. One got the sense of watching people living their lives, not seeing actors on the stage. This made the story even more real.

The acting was also superb: all four actors were stupendous. Christine Corpuz (Ra) was the typical Asian girl: torn beween duty to family and a desire to be perfect. A delight to watch, and very realistic. David Huynh inhabited Vuthy, making him come across as the typically rebellous teenager, a nerd drawn to D&D and comic books, who is trying to be good. Tim Chiou was Han: a brawny gang member with a good inner heart, who was torn between his duties to the gang and Ra and Vuthy, whose mother had been a second mother to him. Lastly, as Glenn, Eymard Cabling portrayed the outsider who just wanted to make Ra happy, but even with an Asian background, couldn’t understand the nuances of Cambodian culture. There was actually a fifth character in the play: Ra and Vuthy’s mother: a stern first generation immigrant from Cambodia, who had faced unspeakable horror in her childhood and escaped for the vision of her children, who would broker nothing that would lead her children from the path to success.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity ]

The play was also very good technically, The set design by David Potts was very clever: the main set was a cluttered apartment with loads of figurines, but the back wall raised up to provide a small substage, which provided different locales such as a car or a Cambodian temple. The costumes by Anthony Tran captured 2003 and the characters very well: Glenn had a more upscale look; Vuthy had the typical D&D style T-shirts; Han was more menacing in gang-ish attire and tattoos; and Ra was a typical college girl. MacAndME did their usual excellent prop design. The sound design by Peter Bayne provided unobtrusive amplification, and created the scene excellently. The lighting by Colony regular Luke Moyer created the mood very well, although it did look like one Leiko was about to fail in the car scene. Leesa Freed was production stage manager.

Year Zero” continues at the Colony Theatre until July 3. If you can, go see it. You’ll be pleasently surprised. Tickets are available from the Colony online box office. They are also available on Goldstar.

P.S.: They also made a casting announcement about their upcoming production of “On Golden Pond“: Hal Linden and Christina Pickles. I’m excited: Hal Linden was in the first professional stage production I ever saw: “The Rothschilds” at LA Civic Light Opera. I hope to be able to go up to him after the show and thank him for starting me on a lifetime of attending live theatre!

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: We have a short break from theatre while I do a college visit with my daughter (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). July starts with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (ticketed); followed by Western Corps Connection on July 3 in Riverside. July should continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl); “Shrek” (July 24, Pantages Theatre, ticketed); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August brings “Doubt” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20, and possibly the last Summer Evening at the Huntington with the Quarteto Neuvo on August 27. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22, and (hopefully) Bernadette Peters at VPAC on October 16. October will also hopefully bring The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in August, September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.


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