We all have stories of trials and tribulations of growing up. It’s not often easy, especially for people in minority groups or countries in turmoil. Trieu Tran and Robert Egan have developed the story of Mr. Tran’s journey from war-torn Vietnam to America into the one-man show Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam, directed by Egan for PlayMakers Repertory Company’s PRC2 second-staged series.
Tran’s story sounds like something out of Hollywood. War, pirates, domestic and sexual abuse, drugs, and … Shakespeare. It’s full of anger and sadness and love and hope. At times, I found myself in disbelief that one person, still standing before me, could actually survive the events being told.
On Brendan Patrick Hogan’s simply decorated stage, with both the Vietnamese and American flags, a large bowl of water, some stools, and a simple shrine upstage center, Tran weaves the tale from birth to adulthood. While the story itself is inherently engaging, I felt that Mr. Tran may not be the most appropriate vessel to deliver it.
Wooden, nervous, and lacking emotional range, Mr. Tran stiffly gesticulated and shouted his way through the piece, making the 95-minute running time seem far longer. I was also struck by the lack of connection. There were only certain sections, in the latter half of the show, where he found grounded footing in the material; they were refreshing breaths in an otherwise detached evening of storytelling.
I’m disappointed to say that I wasn’t wowed. I wasn’t invested. One-man shows are hard; and for me, this one failed to succeed. While the majority of the audience stood and applauded, I couldn’t bring myself to join in. While I applaud PlayMakers for their continued effort to present challenging works highlighting community and dialogue, I’ll look towards the next conversation and hope it’s a stronger offering than this one.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 26th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by the Andrea McKerlie Luke: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7564; Aug. 27th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) review by Sarah McQuillan (who awarded the show 4 stars): http://www.dailytarheel.com/blog/canvas/2015/08/uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam; Aug. 27th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with playwright and performer Trieu Tran, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/vietnam-refugee-looks-back-life-uncle-ho-uncle-sam#stream/0; Aug. 26th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by the Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam/Event?oid=4644534; and Aug. 25th Chapel Hill, NC WCHL/Chapelboro.com interview with playwright and performer Trieu Tran, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam-kicks-off-playmakers-season/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 25th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell and the Aug. 28th review by review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/08/uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam-is-trieu-trans-personal-tale-of-a-haunting-search-for-sanctuary/ and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/08/playmakers-reps-engaging-uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam-is-a-tale-of-two-uncles-or-is-it-three/, respectively.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents UNCLE HO TO UNCLE SAM, co-written and performed by Trieu Tran, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 and 29 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre, in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE: Following each performance, there will be a discussion with the cast and creative team and subject-matter experts.
Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam (2012 play): https://www.facebook.com/UncleHoToUncleSam (Facebook page).
Trieu Tran (playwright/performer): http://www.trieutran.com/ (official website), http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=78f77ffd-a597-4c0d-af99-8fefcfb5bf9d (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0870913/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://twitter.com/Trieu_Tran (Twitter page).
Robert Egan (playwright/director): http://ojaiplays.org/staff_ojai_playwrights_conference.aspx (Ojai Playwrights Conference bio) and http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=e4672ecb-9c73-41bd-b832-e6e244a78362 (PlayMakers Rep bio).
Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. On Feb. 20-March 1, 2015, he directed and starred in Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s presentation of British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell’s first play, The Pride (2008). Then, on May 1-14, he directed Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He will reprise his critically acclaimed performance as David/Crumpet on Dec. 11-13 and 18-20 in Theatre in the Park’s encore production of The SantaLand Diaries, Joe Mantello’s 1996 Off-Broadway one-man show based on an essay first read on Dec. 23, 1992 on National Public Radio by NPR commentator, author, and former Durham resident David Sedaris. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.)