The most recent production from the folks at Kampot’s Epic Arts, Come Back Brighter, is nothing short of an astounding and moving experience for the viewer. With severely limited funding, they have pulled off a “cultural coup”.
My bias these days, by the way, is to avoid all theatre and dance events – I prefer live music and film – but wanting to support Epic, I recently decided to cough up the dosh and go along. And that was the best money I’ve spent in a long time.
To begin with, the venue is undeniably gorgeous and saturated in history. The play takes place in an elegantly decaying small theatre where films and various cultural events were staged for many decades.
There is powerful “juju” in that place – one can feel the visceral presence of “things that once happened there”.
Not wanting to give much of the narrative away, let me just say that there is a logical timeline from the past to the present, as one would expect. This strategy works, and the build-up is tense and fraught with pitched emotion.
The exception is a potent short film that is shown early on about the couple that has owned and run the theatre from the beginning, in the 1960s.
Here is where the first of my rivulets of tears began to flow. The mixture of the unmitigated joy of the “bright and shiny” pop period of Sihanouk’s ’60s contrasting with the devastating pathos of the Khmer Rouge period was too much for me to remain unaffected.
This familiar story was told through the “vehicle” of this tiny local Kampot theatre, which is so emblematic of many other small-town theatres throughout Cambodia at that time.
The only weak chapter of the show was the interpretation of the tragic KR “Year Zero”. I believe that it’s nearly impossible to adequately express the darkness and destruction of what the severely misguided and murderous KR did to Cambodian society, particularly to the cultural arts.
The choreography was the definition of brilliant, especially considering the available resources. The deaf dancers were impressive, as none of them were professionally trained.
One of the show’s standouts was the lead female traditional dancer during the presentation of a classic Khmer song accompanied by a live acoustic band – she was absolute “perfection in motion”.
The male dancer in the wheelchair was also exceptional. That man could, seemingly, do anything, sitting in, and away, from that chair – “freedom of movement” personified. That an extraordinary tour de force took place that evening is not an exaggeration here.
Come Back Brighter rises from the base of a modest and humble production to, surprisingly, an event of high import and epic proportions. In short, Epic Arts is epic. Come Back Brighter is on every Friday night at 7:30pm until May 6.