Tuesday, April 7

Original play to revitalize Thai culture night


Former audiences of the UCLA Thai Smakom Club’s annual
culture night may be surprised when they don’t find the usual
adaptation of a traditional fairy tale in this weekend’s
show. Instead, tomorrow in Freud Playhouse, the club will be
performing an original play, titled “Echoes of the
Past,” which addresses more current issues concerning the
Thai American community.

The show will feature two teenage cousins dealing with life in
the contemporary Thai American community and that in Thailand
itself. Confronting issues of identity, family and academic
pressure, and generation gaps, the boys face hardships and
stereotypes in both America and Thailand.

The two main parts characterize two extremes. Donnie, a
modern-day over-achiever with strict parents, is sent to live in
Thailand, where he questions his upbringing, while the rebellious
Keang visits him there and reflects on his own lifestyle in
America.

The play also features a flashback to the 1970s, showing both
boys’ fathers as two brothers involved in the 1973 student
revolts against the Thai government.

The show addresses this historical turning point as both a
pivotal moment in Thai history and as a way to draw connections
between both eras of teenage empowerment.

By contrasting the 1973 political climate of their
parents’ generation with teenage pressures facing Southeast
Asian teens today, the directors hope to bring a level of
understanding between two very different generations.

Club president Tayakorn Varnichpun, a fifth-year comparative
literature and American literature and culture student, compared
student rights during the time of the 1973 revolts to her own
rights as an American student.

“We’re very fortunate to be here in America where we
can learn about it,” she said. “It’s much harder
to be in Thailand, where there is more government restriction on
education.”

Fourth-year economics student and playwright Adrian Panjanon
wanted to depict the family within the Thai community. Panjanon
said that one of the major themes that the club wanted to address
was the generation gap between parents and kids.

While the club is interested in bringing more current issues
into focus, they’ll continue performing traditional acts
through music and dance. Twenty-five dancers will perform four
different traditional dances from different regions of Thailand,
some of which will be accompanied by live music played professional
Thai bands and a drumming troupe.

According to May Pophongsunun, a third-year international
development studies and sociology student, and dance director, each
region of Thailand has its own style of music and dance, and the
group looked to incorporate that diversity in the culture
night.

Although the performance has always included a dance from each
region, there will be new elements to this year’s show. In
addition to it being the first year Thai Smakom has been able to
include live music, one of this year’s dances will feature
elaborate traditional costuming, adding authenticity to the
carefully choreographed routine.

Show director and third-year physiological science student
Evelyn Hoevatanakul said that the show exemplifies an overall
change in the goals of the club itself.

“This year we were looking to go in a different
direction,” she said.

With a restructured government and a focus on recruiting more
active members, the club has been trying to expand under new
leadership.

“We’ve always been active within the Thai community,
but this year there’s been more community outreach,”
said Hoevatanakul.

Actor Christi Donsanoulphit, a second-year biology student,
agrees.

“The whole group has had a big change this year,”
she said. “We were more involved with community service
within the Thai community. We really wanted to hit all the main
issues that Thai kids deal with in the show.”

Donsanoulphit also said that this year’s show will be more
dramatic and serious in tone, shifting from past shows’ more
lighthearted folk tales. But the group is confident in this
relevant, timely edge they will present on Saturday.

“I’m really proud of our cast and directors this
year,” she said. “We moved away from what we used to
do, and in this play you’ll get to see what kind of things
we’re going through now.”

The Thai Smakom Culture Night will be held in Freud Playhouse in
Macgowan Hall on Saturday at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets
are free, but must be picked up at the Central Ticket Office. Call
(310)825-7041 for more info.


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