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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 21, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 38
War's hidden legacy
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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War's hidden legacy

Thieu Tran's one-man play sheds light on the Vietnamese refugee experience

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

UNCLE HO TO UNCLE SAM
ACT THEATRE
Through October 7


Trieu Tran delivers a harrowing solo show encapsulating his sorrow-laden tale - the 'real' story of Vietnam War refugees. Certainly, it's the closest most of us will ever get to 1975 Vietnam, when Saigon, the capital of the South, fell to the Northern forces.

Tran was born that year, he relates, and his family was caught up in the partisan slaughter, though he was too little to understand much other than that the Viet Cong were the bogeymen and could reach out and grab him from any bush, at any moment. His father is the one who is captured, though, and a searing image from being brought to see him at age 4 is described - his father cruelly tied to a post, clearly having been tortured.

There is an elemental viciousness winding throughout Tran's descriptions. Tran's father, who somehow manages to escape and ends up in Canada, is angry and vicious toward anyone non-Asian - and later, toward his son. Tran's own journey, from a Viet Cong re-education camp to a Thailand refugee camp and finally to America, is a savage trip where life becomes a trade-off and blood is always part of the price. His introduction to the West is brutal both at home and outside, as he learns there are two Americas: one for whites and one for 'everyone else.'

It is a testament to survival through circumstances that might sink lesser souls, and most spectacularly a tribute to his mother - who is so intent on keeping her family together that she goes to find her husband even though she understands he has a new woman. Then, when her husband is killed, she forges a new life in Boston, working two jobs to support her children.

Tran struggles with alienation in America, finding hope and solace in hip-hop - particularly the lyrics of Tupac Shakur - which allows moments of lightness to switch up the gloom of his story. His turbulent life continues through high school, where he meets a young woman he can fall in love with even though she is white, and who introduces him to Shakespeare. The implication is that this development is life-changing, though unfortunately we aren't told why or given the chance to understand what has happened since.

We know, simply because Tran stands before us, that he has embraced theater and acting as a career - among other roles, he is an ensemble player on the exciting HBO series Newsroom. But the play stops at Tran's repossession of his father's ashes. Sure, it's a 95-minute production, and not everything can be told. And granted, the theme of the evening is Tran's search for understanding of his relationship with his father. A feel-good ending is not expected, yet there is no real resolution of any kind.

Still, Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam is a riveting story told from a unique perspective in a compelling theatrical presentation. My verdict: go see it. For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call (206) 292-7676.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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