Plays, films and books, including “The Killing Fields,” have dealt extensively with the Cambodian reign of terror led by Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. Many have done so much more effectively than “Black Dawn.”
A group of Cambodian refugee women living in Long Beach have attracted considerable media and scholarly attention because of the war trauma blindness that they suffer, which has no apparent physical cause.
TX: TX:Playwrights’ Arena in association with July Inc. presents a drama in one act by Jean Colonomos. Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera; To a certain extent, this is familiar territory, and playwright Colonomos has nothing particular to add to the story. She recounts in vague, expressionist ways the suffering of these women — re-creating bombings, torture, rape and the degradation of their lives in Cambodia.
Their stories are oddly impersonal, never delving into the personalities of the women. Colonomos casts them in the role of universal victim, failing to explore the individual characters as they face both the turmoil at home and the anxieties in their new country.
Colonomos also misses an opportunity to mine the psychological dynamics of the traumatic blindness, settling for a facile solution that the women must simply let out their feelings under the supervision of a local social worker, Cherene Snow (Mona Devlin). While there is some token discussion about the cultural roots of the blindness, the Western psychological/social approach is barely questioned.
The most disastrous trap the play falls into is one that all plays about genocide and holocaust risk — the assumption that the event itself is so horrific that it need not be dramatized at all. The opposite, in fact, is often true.
Universal horrors depicted onstage must be rigorously presented through the personal, individual lives of the characters. Inthis play, very little about the characters is presented beyond their suffering and the resulting blindness. They are all victims and they all seem the same.
The ensemble cast moves around the stage in a kind of choral unison, and there are very few opportunities for performances of any kind. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera falls into the same traps as the playwright and creates a numbing, emotionally flat tone. Production values are also weak, with awkward lighting transitions and unimaginative set design.