The Performance Network, Ann Arbor's only professional resident theatre company, continues its season with the world premiere play, The Spirit House, about Americans in Vietnam seen through the prism of Americans settled in nearby Thailand, through Nov. 10.
The play by Adam Kraar began performances Oct. 17 and is directed by Performance Network artistic director Daniel C. Walker. The poetic new work was a finalist in the 2002 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
According to production notes, the play focuses on a U.S. information officer and his family, who move to Thailand in the 1960s. "In its sultry and tenuous climate they must learn to heed the 'spirits' or suffer the consequences," according to the announcement. The play is billed as "an intriguing blend of magical realism and naturalistic drama exploring mysticism, sexual awakening and international politics."
The cast includes Katherine Banks, James Frounfelter, Carla Milarch, David Wolber, Nicholas Yik-Man Yu and Shelley Fager.
Playwright Kraar said in production notes, "While not autobiographical, it is related to my experience of growing up in Thailand in the mid-1960s, as the war escalated in nearby Vietnam. I originally thought I would write a play called Christmas in Bangkok. American families in Thailand were asked by the embassy to invite U.S. servicemen on leave from duty in Vietnam to Christmas dinner. A very young child, I was excited that these real warriors were coming to our home. My father, a foreign correspondent, warned me not to pester the servicemen with questions about the war. They wanted a nice, normal American Christmas dinner. Another reporter, a friend of the family who also came to dinner, did ask the servicemen some tough questions about the war. Ignorant as I was of politics, I sensed the strong discomfort of the adults during that quiet discussion. "When my family first moved to Bangkok, it was a sleepy, provincial city. The playful warmth of the Thai people was a delight. By the time we left, in 1968, even from my child's point of view I could see that the city had transformed. American servicemen were everywhere, along with neon signs and prostitutes. The woman working for my family as a maid -- a joyous, musical Chinese-Thai woman -- one day became suddenly hysterical. I gradually learned that her teenage daughter had run off and 'married' an American G.I. All this swirled around my head as I began to write the play.
"The other impulse was a need to write about the loss of Eden. I understand intellectually why humankind couldn't stay in the Garden, but why should Eve's curiosity and joy have caused the Fall? It's a mystery I wanted to explore. A family's coming apart and America's loss of innocence seemed intimately connected to that mystery."
Tickets range $19-$27.50. For ticket information, call (734) 663-0681 or visit www.performancenetwork.org.
— By Kenneth Jones