By Jocelyn Chui
Northwest Asian Weekly
Before actor Trieu Tran turned his personal story into a play, it was hard to imagine the torment Vietnamese immigrants had to go through in leaving their homes. With the opening of “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam,” which runs through Oct. 7 at the ACT Theatre in downtown Seattle, audiences can now experience the journey of those who were once fresh off the boat.
As the story reveals, the struggles included more than language barriers and culture shock.
The play opens in the dark. Tran lights a stick of incense in front of his ancestral altar and begins to tell a powerful story.
Born 10 days before the end of the Vietnam War, Tran watched the Viet Cong capture his father before escaping his war-torn country for North America, the land of dreams and freedom.
However, the reunion with his father in Saskatoon, Canada, at the age of 7, was just the beginning of his new struggle. Tran soon learned that his father was no war hero, but a troubled man who abused his wife at home and led a gang outside. He also realized that as a refugee family, they always had to deal with problems that were unheard of to their white neighbors.
Tran had always longed for the chance to be the warrior prince his family expected him to be. The time for him to be the man in his family finally arrived after his father was stabbed and killed by rival gang members. He moved to Boston with his mother and sisters and fulfilled his duties by working two part-time jobs. Missing the tastes of their home in Vietnam, the family’s first American Thanksgiving tradition was a turkey stuffed with mango and guava.
One foot through the door of freedom, Tran embraced the American Dream only to find that the dream was not meant for everyone. Searching for ways to infiltrate white culture and be represented on the streets of Boston, Tran found the borderless outlet he needed.
“Hip hop is colorless, not racist,” he rapped on stage.
Every turn he made, something would come up. Yet, while battling the ghost of his father and cruel reality, he graduated college and eventually became a professional actor capable of tying an audience’s emotions with the words he spoke throughout the 90-minute play.
Producer Robert Egan said the play was a great gift because it tells tales about America that people do not bring up at dinner tables.
“After watching the play, either you will feel responsible [for] the chain of events [that] happened to Trieu or you will feel totally connected and it’s giving you hope,” Egan said.
Their work together started when Tran caught Egan’s attention four years ago after working together on a play in New York City. Egan could sense the story behind the actor, who was fearless on stage, but shy off it. Over a lunch meeting, the Vietnamese American actor led the producer into his intense family history, Vietnam, and his America.
The play’s audience sat in the theater, chewing on each word Tran said, no doubt overwhelmed by his personal story. Perhaps many wondered if the events depicted were fictionalized.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the play is based on facts,” Tran said. “Once we got to North America, I realized that it is as difficult as the journey of coming to America.”
“It is easier to talk about my mom because she is this loving and caring woman,” he added. “And then we talk about my dad. That’s when the writer’s block starts to happen.”
Regardless of the emotional rollercoaster Tran endured when he wrote the script, he felt fortunate for the opportunity and said the production process has been a pleasant journey.
Both Egan and Tran hope to give the audience new perspectives on the American Dream and the role each member of society plays in this country.
“At some point, we have to wake up to the fact that it’s an immigrant culture that makes up the mosaic of America,” Egan said. “What does the American Dream mean? Maybe it should simply [mean being] responsible to the other people, society, and nature.”
Season pass holder Kathleen McGill was deeply touched after she attended opening night with her husband.
“I went to school with a lot of kids from Vietnam, and I just didn’t know,” McGill said. “The play was really moving, and it gave me a lot of perspectives.”
“Trieu is a product of the world we created,” Egan said. “His journey is the journey we are all responsible for. The ghost of Trieu’s life is speaking to us as much as it is speaking to Trieu.” (end)
For more information about “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” or to buy tickets, visit www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.
Jocelyn Chui can be reached at email@example.com.