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Rocking Out at the Theater with AAAYA-DC: Cambodian Rock Band

To beat the heat, several AAAYA-DC members retreated into a, in all senses of the word, cool Kreeger Theater of Stage Arena to witness a much celebrated play of its summer season, Cambodian Rock Band, on August 12th. There was no curtain to conceal the stage. Instead, we expectantly looked upon an instrument set that conspicuously called out that we were about to rock out.

Cambodian Rock Band explores Cambodia's vibrant '70s rock scene and the tragic purging of an entire generation of musicians by the Khmer Rouge. A live band drove the production with a psychedelic soundscape that not only navigated us through scenes and interwoven timelines, but also moonlighted as the cast! The sheer talent of the performers who did double duty as actors and musicians simply blew us away.

One critical character was more an occasional accessory to the band, crushing the cowbell with both great musical and comedic timing, and was played by Yale’s very own Francis Jue of the class of ‘86. In fear of giving away any spoilers, I will simply say I was dazzled by his ability to embody extremes, consistently playing with my ability to trust and feel betrayed.

The event was specially organized to show AAAYA’s support of playwright Lauren Yee (YC’07) who attended that performance!

As advocates for Asian American arts, we absolutely celebrate Yee’s ability to not only pen such a compelling piece, but also pioneer a project that holds space for so many Asian American creative professionals, including the exemplary direction from Chay Yew.

In the lobby, Arena had set up an informative exhibit chronicling Cambodian rock history and had for sale Dengue Fever merchandise. A cheeky appropriation of the mosquito-transmitted threat commonplace in Cambodia, Dengue Fever is in fact a Los Angeles band whose music was featured in the play. The performance date we happened to choose also happened to be designated as Khmer Community Day, hosted in collaboration with the Khmer Alumni Association and Arena Stage. Traditional snacks and clothes added an extra festive layer of welcome cultural immersion!

Our AAAYA-DC community came together to enjoy this outstanding play, reinforcing the power that art has to transport us to painful pasts so that as a present audience we can witness, reflect and challenge such pain to find, at a minimum, learning and, perhaps, healing. Stay tuned for more exciting cultural explorations with AAAYA-DC!

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