Cambodian Rock Band: A Riveting Tapestry of History and Music set for Arena Stage

Jun 16, 2023
Cambodian Rock Band at Arena Stage in Washington DC

The Mead Center for American Theater at Arena Stage in Washington DC has unveiled the cast and creative ensemble for the much-awaited play, Cambodian Rock Band. Initially planned to grace the stage during the 2021/22 Season, this riveting Signature Theatre production will now make its grand entrance as the opening act of Arena Stage's 2023/24 Season, which is billed as "electrifying, music-filled, and deeply pleasurable." Penned by the talented Lauren Yee, known for The Great Leap and King of the Yees, and encompassing tunes from Dengue Fever, the production is under the expert direction of Chay Yew. Theatergoers can catch Cambodian Rock Band at the Kreeger Theater from July 19 to August 27, 2023.

The play Cambodian Rock Band is a poignant tale that follows the journey of Chum, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, as he revisits Cambodia after three decades. He finds himself accompanying his daughter, Neary, who is on a mission to bring one of Cambodia's most notorious war criminals to justice. With a live band on stage performing a mix of modern Dengue Fever tracks and classic Cambodian hits, this compelling play offers a blend of comedy, historical drama, and rock concert. Family secrets unravel against the backdrop of Cambodia's dark past. Time Out Chicago acclaims, "The guitars shred your heart."

Molly Smith, the Artistic Director of Arena Stage, exclaimed, "Finally! I am so happy that Arena will finally be presenting this psychedelic theatrical extravaganza. I've been looking forward to sharing Cambodian Rock Band with D.C. audiences since we first announced it in spring 2021. I cannot think of a better way for Arena to kick off this next chapter in its long history." Smith is set to bid farewell to Arena Stage at the end of the month after an illustrious 25-year career. Her successor, Hana Sharif, is joining Arena from The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Smith elaborated on the play's background, stating, "Prior to the '70s, Cambodia was a rock-and-roll hotbed-'the Detroit of Southeast Asia,' as one of the play's character calls it. However, as the Khmer Rouge rose to power, intellectuals, artists, and musicians were singled out as enemies of the state, and their numbers count among the nearly two million victims of the resulting purge. While Cambodian Rock Band is a play about history and politics on a large scale, it is primarily concerned with a family, and a daughter's discovery of her father's hidden life. And, of course, as the title suggests, it is also about music: wild, raucous, and anarchic, with distorted guitars and hypnotic, pounding rhythms-the music of youth and innocence."

Director Chay Yew spoke highly of the play, saying, "Lauren Yee's Cambodian Rock Band is a work of incredible theatrical deftness, brutal honesty, pure heart, and wit. Her play breathes life into the timely issues in our divided nation: immigration, race, genocide, and human rights abuses; the rights of refugees and emigres; the consequences of apathy when a country shifts under a brutal regime; and the destruction of freedom of expression in the midst of political transitions and upheavals. In Lauren's astute eyes, one thing remains consistent throughout our temperamental world: the constancy, the resilience, and enduring power of art and artists. Lauren Yee's Cambodian Rock Band celebrates the indomitable legacy of art and music; how artists capture our individual and national spirit and hopes; and the uncanny ability of art to inspire, to affirm our humanity, and to

bring us together."

The cast is adorned with talents such as Kelsey Angel Baehrens, Brooke Ishibashi, Francis Jue, Abraham Kim, Tim Liu, Jane Lui, Alex Lydon, Joe Ngo, and Vi Tran, who will all be making their first appearance at Arena Stage. Several of these actors hail from the original 2020 Signature Theatre production and have also been part of performances at the Alley Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre in early 2023.

The creative team accompanying Chay Yew consists of Takeshi Kata (Set Designer), Linda Cho (Costume Designer), David Weiner (Lighting Designer), Mikhail Fiksel & Megumi Katayama (Co-Sound Designers), Luke Norby (Projection Designer), Tom Watson (Wig Designer), Jane Lui and Matt MacNelly (Music Supervisors & Co-Music Directors), Graham Schmidt (Associate Director), Merrick A.B. Williams (Stage Manager), Caroline Duffin (Assistant Stage Manager), and Christi B. Spann (Replacement Assistant Stage Manager).