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“Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” Is Trieu Tran’s Personal Tale of a Haunting Search for Sanctuary

Trieu Tran co-wrote and stars in "Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam" (photo by Craig Schwartz courtesy the Center Theatre Group)

Trieu Tran co-wrote and stars in “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” (photo by Craig Schwartz courtesy the Center Theatre Group)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will kick off its 2015-16 season with a provocative PRC2 production of Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam, co-written and performed by Trieu Tran and co-written and directed by Robert Egan, on Aug. 26-30 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.

In its news release announcing this second-stage presentation — with a post-show discussion following each performance — UNC’s professional-theater-company-in-residence writes, “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam … is [Trieu Tran’s] personal tale of a haunting search for sanctuary. As a young boy, Tran and his family barely escaped the [April 30, 1975] Fall of Saigon and the horrors of a Viet Cong re-education camp to become refugees, at last coming to America [and settling, first, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and later, during his adolescence, in Boston, MA]. [This one-man show] is his riveting journey of hardship and brutality, leading to a new world of gang war, hip hop, and Shakespeare on the other side.”

In reviewing previous productions of Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam, The Seattle Times called the show “a powerful tale [of] blistering force”; and SeattleMet wrote “Trieu Tran’s true story Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam is Shakespearean in its tragedy …. In [this] solo show …, Tran has crafted a brave, riveting piece of theater around a story that’s too infrequently told: of the Vietnamese in ‘the American War.'” And The Hollywood Reporter characterized [Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam] as “poignant … [I]ts power is so sustained and undeniable, it makes so many other autobiographical forays seem trivial by comparison….”

Several years ago, recalls Trieu Tran, “[Director/co-author] Robert Egan and I were doing a play together in New York about the aftermath of the [1955-75] Vietnam War [and its effects] on a group of American vets. I played a character who was a memory figure from a GI’s time in Vietnam. Robert was my director on that play.

“We used to spend most of the break time together talking about sports and LA and, of course, the Vietnam War,” Tran explains. “I have a very personal history in relation to that war and so does Robert. I lost family and friends and a country. Robert lost friends and parts of his country. ”

Tran adds, “Robert and I talked long and hard and in a most complicated way about both of our experiences. Robert suggested I had a real story to tell. And we went back to LA and had a six-hour lunch, where I told him much of my story. A play was born that day.

“We began a writing process where Robert essentially sent me topics/prompts/feelings to write about, riff about, meditate about,” says Tran. “I wrote fully and wildly and emotionally. Robert would shape the material and send it back to me.”

Trieu Tran co-wrote and stars in "Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam" (photo by Craig Schwartz courtesy the Center Theatre Group)

Trieu Tran co-wrote and stars in the play (photo by Craig Schwartz courtesy the Center Theatre Group)

Trieu Tran says, “We found we were writing as one, in my voice, in my sound. It was thrilling. We did this for months. We amassed about 300 pages of writing and responses. And then Robert and I kept shaping and pounding out the dramatic sculpture that is now Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam. So, I guess Robert got me to believe that a play was worthy and possible. And the deep inspiration for the play was what happened to my father, my mother, my family, and me as a result of losing our country and trying desperately to find our identity and soul in a series of new worlds….

“Robert and I have done major productions [of Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam] in Seattle and Los Angeles — at A Contemporary Theatre and Center Theatre Group, respectively,” Tran notes. “The audiences have taught us immensely, particularly in Seattle, where we premiered the play.

“Robert and I would go out after each preview performance and have a glass of wine and read the audience response sheets. (They give out these sheets at each preview with specific questions, and we would be given them after each of our first 10 previews prior to official opening.),” Tran says.

“First, ” says Trieu Tran, “we discovered out of 400 people a night that huge numbers were writing to us. It was overwhelming the response and impact the play was having on them. Second, we discovered they were having an issue with the end of the play where I perform a ritual of healing. We did not have it right yet.

“There was some exquisite balance between understanding and forgiveness, between looking back and moving forward, between my journey and the audience’s journey being linked,” says Tran. “We found it as a result of the audience questions and restlessness. There were many ways the audience helped shape Robert’s and my perception of the finished work.”

In addition to playwright/performer Trieu Tran and playwright/director Robert Egan, the PlayMakers Repertory Company for Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam includes PlayMakers production manager Michael Rolleri, costume designer Rose Pederson, sound designer Brendan Patrick Hogan, and stage manager Hannah-Jean Farris.

Trieu Tran says the show’s set, lighting, and costumes are “simple and ritualistic.” He adds, ” We are at the altar of [my] father. We are in sacred space to tell the story.”

He confesses, “The challenge for Robert and me is to find elegant ways for me to keep the audience engaged during the story. We do this by great concentration on the emotional connection to the material, so I am always present to the moment. We also are real technicians in shaping my voice and my body in order to most effectively tell the story. All is in the service of making the story live fully in the moment you are hearing it and seeing it and experiencing it.”

In addition to Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam (Aug. 26-30), PRC2‘s 2015-16 offerings include Highway 47 (Jan. 6-10, 2016), written and performed by K.J. Sanchez, and The Real Americans (April 27-May 1, 2016), written and performed by Dan Hoyle.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents UNCLE HO TO UNCLE SAM, co-written and performed by Trieu Tran, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26-29 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.

TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcgroups@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/unclehotounclesam.

UNC NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2015/08/11/playmakers-kicks-off-prc2-season-with-uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam/.

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/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/kenan.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE: Following each performance, there will be a discussion with the cast and creative team and subject-matter experts.

OTHER LINKS:

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).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature