October - December 2019

Cambodian Rock Band A Review of Art Interrupted

by Christopher Hughes
Cambodian Rock Band

Opening with a crescendo of rock music and bright lights, which draw the audience into a quizzical mood about its role in the production, Cambodian Rock Band tackles a dark period in history with hope that time and reflection, humor and love, and a dance of music and shared experiences can heal a series of terrible events.

It’s “art interrupted,’ as a history lesson in a tragic social experiment plays out as the catalyst for a family’s dark past and the resulting strain it places on a father-and-daughter relationship. 
High energy music provides welcome interludes (or is it the history lesson that is the actual interlude to the music?), a despotic ghost intervenes as a master of ceremonies, and father and daughter throw themselves into a rapprochement, as the daughter retraces her father’s involuntary steps to a pivotal moment in his life. 

In the end, art prevails and love triumphs. As the gritty performances of the band, with an occasional ballad, pulls us out of the nightmare and reminds us that a family can, albeit painfully, overcome the subsiding tsunami of despotism.

And so, we are drawn in… we watch, we learn, we clap, and are entertained. The performances are marvelous, and the vibe, while marked by deep mood swings, provides a current upon which the theater rides to the musical encore.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, then make sure you catch Cambodian Rock Band!

Featuring a cast that performs a mix of contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies, playwright and UC San Diego MFA alumna Lauren Yee brings to vivid life the Cambodian rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a movement cut short by the Khmer Rouge's brutal attempt to erase the music (and musicians) once and for all.

Khmer pop, a Cambodian mix of rock, soul, and Latin sounds from the West, swept the country from the 1960s till 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power, silencing the music and musicians, beginning the annihilations of almost two million people in less than four years.

A big part of the play is music, including five of the six actors doubling as the band, performing 1960s Khmer pop and contemporary Cambodian/indie rock sogns by LA-based Dengue Fever.

This is a story about survivors, the resilient bond of family, and the enduring power of music.

A co-production with Portland Center Stage at the Armory, Cambodian Rock Band will run in the Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre November 12 – December 15 (press opening: Sunday, November 17 at 7:00pm). The cast features Brooke Ishibashi as “Neary/Sothea,” Abraham Kim as “Rom,” Jane Lui as “Pou/Guard,” Joe Ngo as “Chum,” Daisuke Tsuji as “Duch,” and Moses Villarama as “Ted/Lang.”

“It’s a pleasure to welcome UC San Diego graduate Lauren Yee back to San Diego with her riveting, prize-winning work that offers a rocking and redemptive story of a father and daughter finding each other amidst decades-old secrets,” said Christopher Ashley, the Rich Family Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse.

WHEN: November 12 – December 15
  • Tue/Wed at 7:30pm
  • Thu/Fri/Sat at 8pm
  • Sun at 7pm; Sat/Sun at 2pm
WHERE: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037

TICKETS from $39: (858) 550-1010; LaJollaPlayhouse.org