The problem with so many one-man, autobiographical shows is that they are so often just someone exorcising their own demons. And that's fine when it has someplace to go. But as is the case with ACT's World Premiere of Trieu Tran and Robert Egan's "Uncle Ho To Uncle Sam" it just feels like a big rant for 90 minutes culminating in nothing.
Performed by co-author Tran, the play follows his journey from a child in Vietnam, into a Thailand refugee camp and finally to his emigration to Canada and eventually America. Along the way Tran faces several hardships including an estranged Father, murder, molestation, pirates and gang wars not all of which took place outside the US. But once in the US he also has to face the stigma of trying to fit in as an American without ignoring his past.
OK, yes, I will grant you that he has had a turbulent and hard life and it's amazing he survived it. But as horrifying as the story is, there was no arc to it. It came off as a string of, "This horrible thing happened, then this one, then this one, then this one, etc." If you feel the need to share your story with the world then make sure it has someplace to go otherwise it's really just your own therapy on stage, and my readers know how much I despise that.
But even someone else's therapy could come across well if it's presented in an engaging way. Unfortunately Tran seems so angry throughout and presents everything at one level, self-important rant, that I found it very difficult to care. There was just so much hand wringing and fist pumping and chest pounding and it never stopped. Well, not until the very end of the play where all of a sudden Tran got introspective and put out a plea for East and West to come together as one. But since the previous 90 minutes were an angry diatribe of hate, the final prayer seemed hollow and tacked on.
I'm all for multiculturalism and exploring other peoples. And I admit that many of us who grew up in this country have had it easy. I mean when my biggest woe is that the new iPhone has a different docking port so it won't work with my other devices, well that's really a first world problem. But if you're going to put up the hardships of another country as an entertainment, then it still needs to go somewhere. A beginning, a middle and an end and with ups and downs, that's all I ask for. Otherwise it's just so much screaming into the wind and, for me, that gets old quite fast.
"Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam" performs at ACT through October 7th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion