It's human nature to want to see your life reflected back as art. It’s exactly this kind of harmless narcissism that wins awards for movies about movie-making – think The Disaster Artist or La La Land. The newest play from the Phnom Penh Players, Missionaries, Mercenaries & Monsters, an original work, fits squarely in that tradition.
It’s a play about Phnom Penh expats for expats, written, directed and acted by expats. Although, in this case, foreigners may not exactly like what they see when they look in the mirror.
The play follows a group of people – all regulars at the same bar – as they navigate life in Phnom Penh. We see their ups and downs, their first dates and break-ups, their business struggles and successes. It’s the characters who drive the action forward, rather than a plot in the traditional sense of the word.
All the stereotypical Phnom Penh characters make an appearance: the bright-eyed recent university graduate embarking on a six-month stint at an NGO, the jaded expat who fancies herself wise to the grittier underbelly of life in the city, and the party-hopping young foreigner, living from cocktail to cocktail.
The whole thing is narrated by a young Khmer man named Narin getting his first look at barang culture, with all its foibles and faults.
The play’s writer/director, Rob Appleby, created the work as an homage to the friends and stories he’s collected in the course of five years living in the Kingdom, and much ofthe story, he said, is based on real anecdotes from his own life, as well as from the lives of the cast and crew.
“Write what you know,” Appleby said with a shrug. Expats here, he added, have such a wealth of life experiences, and “it’s a shame that most of the time people take their stories to the grave.”
The play’s overarching theme – as well as its title – is based on a thought exercise “common” in the past among expats in which participants argue over who among them is a missionary (a self-righteous idealist), a mercenary (a self-serving sort) or a monster (self-destructive, self-satisfied). The play could very well leave its audience uncomfortably questioning which camp they belong in.
The truth, we learn, is that the reflection staring back at us just might be a mixture of all three.
Missionaries, Mercenaries & Monsters will be showing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at The Factory, 1159 National Road 2, at 7pm. Tickets cost $10 and are available at Showbox, Lot 369 and KWest. All proceeds go to CamKids, the Cambodian Children’s Charity.