She’s angry. She’s edgy. And she’s determined to discover the truth. The truth though, is not where or what she expected it to be.
Lauren Yee has crafted a heat-seeking musical thriller with knockout arrangements and breath-holding turnabouts in her new play, Cambodian Rock Band at South Coast Repertory, on the Julianne Argyros Stage, as part of SCR’s CrossRoads Initiative.
Intimate and intricate, this inspired, serio-comedy is tragic and triumphant, hard-edged and piercing; a passionate, father-daughter journey layered with recognizable, spontaneous Yee-styled humor, that both draws and alleviates tension throughout all of the tumultuous complexities.
Vividly directed by Chay Yew and featuring absolutely gorgeous songs by Dengue Fever and music direction by Matthew MacNelly, Cambodian Rock Band is a part comedy, part mystery, part rock concert, much in the same relationship vein as Yee’s, King of the Yees (although deeply expanded). It is a story that toggles back and forth from Cambodia at the start of Pol Pot’s gruesome reign to present time, enveloping both father and daughter who face the horrors of genocide buried in the memories of her father’s past.
Neary (Brooke Ishibashi), a young Cambodian American woman has found evidence that could finally put away the Khmer Rouge’s chief henchman, the head of the most famous death camp. When her father Chum (Joe Ngo) shows up unannounced (his first return to Cambodia since fleeing 30 years ago) to try to get his daughter to return to America and go back to school to become a lawyer, Neary discovers that he is the clue to the mystery she is trying to solve. But it’s a discovery Chum doesn’t want to participate in.
When he refuses to become a part of the testimony Neary runs into the night in anger. To get her back safely, he plays a childhood game with her – a piece of truth for a clue about where to find her. As the night goes on, he must face his own past and what may be a complicit act for his escape from the death camp.
A stunning, emotional performance deeply rooted in music and history by actor Joe Ngo is matched by actress Brooke Ishibashi’s grit and guts performance as she also heads the band as the lead singer. Driven by actor Daisuke Tsuji who doubles as the sarcastic host past and present and frightening Commander Deuch. With Impressive performances by the entire cast overall.
Beautifully written. Thoroughly immersive. Cambodian Rock Band is a triumph for Yee!
Very Highly Recommended
Photo (above) by Jordan Kubat. Joe Ngo, Abraham Kim, Brooke Ishibashi, Jane Lui and Raymond Leei in Cambodian Rock Band.