After the Vietnam War and partly thanks to U.S. involvement in bombing Cambodia, Cambodia was plunged into a dark period under the Khmer Rouge. Americans know little about this Asian country except through news reports of the “killing fields” where 20,000 mass graves were uncovered. This part of Cambodian history was covered brilliantly by the movie The Killing Fields which won three Academy Awards. Since those terrible times Cambodia has rebounded with one of the best economic records in all of Asia and is now a popular tourist destination.
Extraordinary Chambers, a play by David Weiner, is currently running at the Geffen Playhouse's Audrey Skirball Theatre. The story is about Cambodia today but the shadows of the past are still present. The title refers to the tribunal set up by the Cambodian government and the United Nations to try war criminals for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. In the play, modern Cambodia collides with the past and a young American couple who have come to do business in Cambodia must decide between the salvation of one life and the sacrifice of justice for many.
Marin Hinkle and Mather Zickel play the couple at the center of the story. The cast also features Greg Watanabe as Sopoan, their guide, as well as Francois Chau and Kimiko Gelman who play a high-powered businessman and his wife. It turns out that Chau’s character is wanted by the courts. A convoluted story unfolds in which the American wife, who has lost a baby, is persuaded to adopt a Cambodian child—but the price is to protect the criminal.
There are several telling plot twists, one of which brought a gasp from the audience. These twists might be better integrated rather that having the story stop for several monologues by Sopoan. The acting is all good, though the characters are rather unlikeable so it is difficult to get into their respected plights. I was particularly impressed by Francois Chau who displayed a range of emotions that he conveyed with honesty.
This compelling story is playing at the Geffen Playhouse until July 3.