June 19 2013 01:38 PM

Drama set in Cambodia tops our coverage of local plays

Albert Park
Photo by Crissy Pascual

Playwright David Wiener's Extraordinary Chambers may not be altogether extraordinary (it's a bit overwrought in places), but it is a tense, contemplative work composed of moments that chill you to the marrow. Like when the bespectacled Cambodian guide Sopoan (Albert Park) recounts hiding his glasses from the Khmer Rouge, to whom reading was a crime worthy of execution. Or when the naïve American businessman Carter Dean (Manny Fernandes) first confronts the horrifying truth about his host in Phnom Penh, Dr. Heng (Greg Watanabe). The impact of these revelations linger.

In Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company's production of Extraordinary Chambers at 10th Avenue Theatre, you become immersed in Wiener's narrative—a story of restless strangers in a strange land—only to learn, just as Carter and his wife do, that the victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime are omnipresent, in flesh or in spirit. Though an estimated 1.7 million people died in the Khmer Rouge's killing fields in the '70s (the number is probably much higher), this incredibly grim chapter in human history remains obscure to many. Extraordinary Chambers (the title refers to a tribunal empowered to bring culpable Khmer Rouge members to justice) is a potent reminder.

Mo'olelo's Seema Sueko directs a committed cast highlighted by Watanabe, who in a previous Geffen Playhouse production of Extraordinary Chambers portrayed Sopoan and here tackles Dr. Heng, and Esther K. Chae, an enigmatic and secretive presence as Heng's wife, Rom Chang. Fernandes and Erika Beth Phillips as Carter's wife, Mara, are less engrossing figures, but how they grapple with the story's questions of loss, longing, moral conscience and guilt is central to understanding why what happened in Cambodia is not a tragedy just for the Cambodians.

Albert Park's Sopoan speaks for the haunted and tortured for whom the killing fields will never be as fleeting as a nightmare. His well-timed monologues and his second-act interrogation speak to the desperation and devastation that the Khmer Rouge left in its wake. His is also this production's most understated and ultimately resonant performance.

Extraordinary Chambers runs through June 30 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. $22-$30. moolelo.net

Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


Tribes: A deaf man raised in a hearing family meets a woman who was raised by deaf parents and is going deaf herself. Opens June 25 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com


Becoming Cuba: A world-premiere performance of a drama that focuses on a single family in Cuba as the country gains its independence from Spain at the close of the 19th century. Through June 23 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. nortcoastrep.org

Moonlight and Magnolias: A farcical look at what happens when legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick locks himself and two others in a room for five days so they can finish the script for Gone with the Wind. Through June 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org

Monty Python's Spamalot: A musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the hilarious 1975 film based on the legend of King Arthur. Presented by Broadway Theatre, it runs through June 23 at Welk Theatre in Escondido. broadwayvista.com 

Barefoot in the Park: A free-spirited woman and a retrained man are New York City newlyweds and struggling with their differences. Through June 30 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com

The Divine Sister: A bawdy parody of wholesome 1960s-era movies reveals what secrets lie within St. Veronica's convent school. Through June 30 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org

Fiddler on the Roof: The romantic notions of a workingclass Russian Jew's daughters are a total pain in his traditional butt. Through June 30 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org

Extraordinary Chambers: An American executive brings his wife on a business trip to Cambodia as that country deals with the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime's crimes against humanity. Presented by Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company, it runs through June 30 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. moolelo.net

His Girl Friday: In an adaptation of the 1940 film, a reporter planning to leave the business is convinced by her editor and ex-husband to stay in the game for one last scoop. Through June 30 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org

Accomplice San Diego: A different kind of theater happening—part play, part game—courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls program: Audience members arrive in Little Italy and experience the play around them as they walk through the neighborhood and respond to clues provided to them. Runs through July 7. Find details at lajollaplayhouse.org.

In the Heat of the Night: Ion Theatre Company closes its seventh season with the theatrical version of the 1965 novel, 1968 movie and 1988-1992 TV series about racism and criminal justice in the South. Through July 13 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com

miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through July 28 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tom Stoppard's existentialist play turns two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet into lead characters. Through Sept. 26 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org

The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare's play, about a man who borrows money to court a woman, gave us the terms "shylock" and "a pound of flesh." Through Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Greek forest is alive with fairies, magic potions and the pursuit of love in the opener of The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net


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