It is the opening week of KNYUM, the exciting new one-man MRT production that brings Vichet Chum, exquisite playwright and performer, together with Director KJ Sanchez to expanded written words into a visual experience.
We meet Guy (Vichet) working late nights at a NYC hotel while trying to learn and connect with the language of his Cambodian heritage. As he struggles with the Cambodian dictionary of squiggles, letters, and words without spaces he is “frozen in fear” that he will never learn the language and bring honor to his parents on his first visit to Cambodia planned with them.
Guy wants to translate and write KNYUM, “the story” of his heritage. His mother (mae) and father (pa) are survivors of years of genocide with U.S. occupation during the Viet Nam War and encampment under the reign of Khmer Rouge at the end of the war. Vichet reflects about that time in history and it is riveting. He asks how we know Cambodia. Is it Amy Tan or Angelina Jolie? Do we only have after-thoughts of that time? I felt stunned by his poetic, powerful words that reflected my own choices and experiences during that difficult time when we were separated by beliefs and reactions to that War.
Vichet takes us on Guy’s journey escaping his mundane existence in a set of music and brilliant reflections of lights. As his emotions express sadness, anger and pensive tones we hear his memories in voices of mae and pa and others in a poetic “quirky, funny voice” (Boston Globe). Vichet awakens reflections of his heritage in the past and returns to now as he floats awake, but in a state of dreaming, in a spectacular creative movement of lights and shadows. And the wistful meaning of a feather.
It has been exciting to watch this production expand from the first reading of the script, during rehearsals and now onto the stage. There is no intermission, and none is needed, because it would break the mood of the intense reflection of language and tradition. While at this creative production I felt quiet, pensive, touched, sad, overwhelmed as Guy and Vichet searched to awaken their heritage. I learned too that Lowell has the second largest Cambodian population in the world. And “Cambodia Town” on Plain Street in Lowell has amazing culinary and cultural offerings.
There is much to experience, contemplate and learn in this artistic MRT production. So, please get tickets for one of the performances between January 10 and February 4 to share in this deeply moving new play.
–Gail Gauthier, Cohort
KNYUM runs January 10 – February 4, 2018.