Aired on KSDS-FM on 11/22/19
RUN DATES: 11/12/19 – 12/15/19
VENUE: La Jolla Playhouse
In her marvelous, award-winning creation, “Cambodian Rock Band,’ currently one of the most produced plays in the country, acclaimed playwright Lauren Yee, an alumna of UC San Diego’s MFA Program in Playwriting, has worked something of a miracle.
In telling a poignant father-daughter story, she has interwoven humor, history and the tragedy of 1970s Cambodia during the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge. During that time, all arts were banned, including the buoyant pop music which is played by five of the six actors onstage.
Toggling between 1975, ’78 and 2008, we find Neary, a young American woman trying to bring a Khmer Rouge leader to trial: Comrade Duch, a real character who ran the S-21 prison where 21,000 people were tortured and killed.
Unexpectedly, Neary’s father, who was born in Cambodia, shows up, and secrets begin to unravel – including his connection to Duch, and to the Cambodian music scene.
The play is about family, resilience, survival—and the power of music. Many of the joyful, infectious songs come from the L.A.-based Cambodian rock band, Dengue Fever, that was Yee’s inspiration.
Our affable emcee and narrator, Daisuke Tsuji, later transforms into the forbidding Duch, a math teacher turned monster who is, shockingly, still alive.
Joe Ngo, brilliantly morphing from young man to old, is outstanding as the father—a musician, jokester, prisoner, devoted dad, and a haunted man harboring horrible secrets. Ngo brings heart-rending authenticity to the role; his parents were teenagers forced into a Cambodian hard labor camp during the Khmer Rouge years.
As his daughter, and his youthful band’s lead singer, Brooke Ishibashi is wonderful. The whole ensemble is superb, under the expert direction of Chay Yew, who has shepherded this outstanding show since its world premiere at South Coast Repertory last year. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival production, which features almost the entire original cast, is now at the La Jolla Playhouse, in a co-production with OSF and Portland Center Stage.
It’s a stunning eye-opener—historically and musically—and a beautiful, moving tale of generational separation and connection.
©2019 PAT LAUNER/Patté Productions, Inc.