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Theatre Review (LA): Year Zero by Michael Golamco at the Colony Theatre

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The time seems to be right to once again examine the meanings that emerge from the horrifying events of Cambodia and the Killing Fields. Up until now what we knew was limited to newsreels and a terrific movie called The Killing Fields.

At present, several plays are getting their first productions here in LA. First there is Extraordinary Chambers at the Geffen Playhouse, which looks at modern Cambodia, now attracting businesses and tourists yet still haunted by the past. Additionally, at the Colony Theatre is a touching new play called Year Zero which deals with the legacy of those past times as they live themselves out in the family of refugees which fled the killings.

Year Zero is about two young Cambodian-Americans who are searching for answers and a way forwards. Vuthy is a lonely 16-year-old who loves hip-hop and Dungeons and Dragons. He longs to make his mark in the world. His older sister, Ra, is equally determined to get ahead in America by getting a higher education and by assimilation, in her case by being involved with a bland Chinese-American, Glen, who is already a working part of American culture.

As Ra sorts through her belongings and those of her departed mother who is honored, as is the custom, with a small altar on the living room table, she starts to think about the past she knows very little about. What exactly is she leaving behind? An old friend, the hunky Han, freshly out of jail, having been a gang member, is in town to get revenge as well as to honor Ra, the woman who included him in her family. The mother, it seems, has shared stories of the past with Han, and he passes it on to the brother and sister.

The play traces the awakening of all three characters to the meaning of the past as it relates to their lives. It explores how to escape a painful past while honoring the legacy of one’s own history. Playwright Michael Golamco does this with humor and a modern sensibility.

David Rose does a good job in directing the strong actors he has at his disposal. Christine Corpuz is the ambitious and beautiful Ra. Her brother is played by an exuberant David Huynh who, at times, comes close to caricature, but manages to make him believable. The thankless yet important role of Glen, the would-be husband, is played by veteran actor Eymard Cabling. A powerful yet understated Tim Chiou plays Han. The production makes for a compelling evening in the theatre.

Year Zero will play at the Colony Theatre through July 3.

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