A poignant immigrant story

The Colony Theatre opens its 37th season with a brave selection — the West Coast premiere of Michael Golamco’s “Year Zero.” With a unique structure and a stellar young cast, it’s a quietly powerful work that sneaks up on you slowly.

Definitely not your typical immigrant story, “Year Zero” follows the two children of a woman who survived genocide in Cambodia. The title refers to 1976, when the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. Brutal leader Pol Pot declared this “year zero” to be a reboot of civilization that would erase thousands of years of Cambodian history and culture.

Over the next four years, millions of Cambodians died from starvation and overwork in the countryside. Educated people, monks, ethnic Chinese, Christians and other enemies of this “new” society were immediately executed.

Vuthy (David Huynh) and big sister Ra (Christine Corpuz) barely escaped with their mother to Long Beach, the only survivors of their entire family tree. The play begins shortly after her death in the spring of 2003, as Vuthy and Ra pack up their mom’s things and prepare for what the future holds.

Ra is studying for the Medical College Admission Test while stuck in a serious relationship with the nerdy Glenn (Eymard Cabling). Vuthy should be cleaning his stuff out of the apartment, but he’s spending way too much time with Han (Tim Chiou), a notorious member of the Tiny Rascal Gang, or TRG, the largest Asian gang in the United States.

“Year Zero” comes off so well because it’s entirely absent of the predictable characters and yawn-inducing structure found in plays exploring similar subject matter. The ultra-modern setting is jarring at first, but actually serves as the perfect backdrop for two kids following different versions of the American dream.

Huynh and Corpuz give believable performances as brother and sister, from the arguing over chores to those stupid fights you later regret. But it’s Chiou’s literally giant contribution as TRG gangster Han that gives the drama heft.

It’s funny. The sibling’s coming-of-age part of the story works far better than Han’s “West Side Story” redux or even his tenderly clumsy romance with Ra. But Chiou brings a raw sexuality and intimidating size to Han that sears the stage when some of this tough guy’s long-dormant emotions bubble to the surface.

Chiou puts an unexpectedly poignant face on this raw, uncompromising tale of immigrant children. Only one generation removed and assimilating with American culture in record time does little to silence the ghosts of a terrible tragedy.

James Petrillo is an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles.


What: “Year Zero” by Michael Golamco

Where: The Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, adjacent to the Burbank Town Center

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday through July 3; Question-and-Answer Talk-Back with the cast after performance on June 23.

Tickets: $20 to $42 (student, senior and group discounts available)

Contact: (818) 558-7000 or visit www.colonytheatre.org

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