ST. PAUL (Feb. 20, 2014) — We Theater will host the world premiere of the full-length production, “The Shadow War” from April 16 – 27, 2014 at The Wellstone Center, 179 Robie St E, St. Paul.
Set in 1971, the play follows five characters whose lives and destinies were woven together by the tragic circumstances of the American CIA-led “Shadow” War in Laos from 1954 to 1975, the Vietnam War’s second front.
With the U.S. government officially denying reports of military action in the politically neutral Laos, the CIA operatives continued training Laos natives, mostly Hmong, to fight Communist Pathet Lao in an attempt to destabilize Vietnam.
The story is told by a CIA station chief, Lee Mayevsky, and his wife, their Hmong housekeeper, and the Pathet Lao agent working with Mayevsky. The Hmong housekeeper’s combatant brother is a frequent, and later ghostly, visitor.
The visual world of the play — historical slides and shadow puppets — illustrates the reality behind the play as well as the Hmong folk tales woven into its texture. The narrative translates the political relationships of the war into an intimate personal drama.
Playwright Amy Russell lived in Laos as a child from 1969 to 1971. While her father was building fish farms for the Royal Lao government as an employee of USAID, American planes were carpet-bombing the Plaine de Jarres, a second front against the Vietnamese.
The Hmong villagers that Amy’s father helped to resettle in refugee camps had been displaced as much by the Americans for whom they were fighting as by the Vietnamese they were fighting against.
Amy’s family was evacuated from Laos as the U.S. progressively lost the war against the Vietnamese-backed Pathet Lao. They left with the terrible certainty that the Lao, and the Hmong who had worked with them, would bear the consequences. Thousands of these “collaborators” were shot, or suffered in re-education camps.
The production commemorates 60 years since the U.S. initiated a military presence in Laos and thus started a decades-long relationship with the Hmong people, 50 years since the start of the Secret War, and 40 years since the last U.S. flight left Laos and ended the war.
A Collaborative Creative Process
Amy began writing a play about the Secret War four years ago. Realizing this history was much larger than her perspective, she and director Teresa Mock began to formulate a devising project that would bring actors and creators together in a shared creative process.
Ensemble members contributed their stories to the work. The process of developing the play included a significant research and collaboration with the ensemble, members of the Hmong American community, and former U.S. government employees who worked in Laos at the time.
The ensemble includes playwright Amy Russell, producing director Teresa Mock, producer and actor Sandy’Ci Moua (Ly Shoua, and daughter Ly Nhia), actor Erik Hoover (Lee Mayevsky), actor Song Kim (Sathanalat Thamavong), actor Flora Bare (Gay Mayevsky, and daughter Mia), and actor Gregory Yang (Ly Su).
This production is part of a 20 year local history of theater arts created by, performed, or produced by Hmong Americans and a rare example of a MN-based production having a Lao character.
In September 2012, after running a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, We Theater hosted a developmental devising workshop for The Shadow War in collaboration with the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT.) At the end of the workshop, a public presentation and discussion was held at The Lowry Lab Theatre in Saint Paul.
In July 2013, We Theater was awarded a $10,000 Arts Activities Support Grant through The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to fund the world premier production of The Shadow War. We Theater is collaborating with The Center for Hmong Studies and The Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota to bring this shared story to life.
By engaging the local Hmong-American and Lao-American communities, Lao War and Vietnam War veterans, theater practitioners, and Twin Cities residents, The Shadow War provides an opportunity for a better understanding of each of our histories, experiences, and perspectives.
The purpose of the production is in part to “own our history collectively, and to share stories and remember them together, is the primary task and creative challenge of this project.”
Community panel discussions with playwright Amy Russell and Hmong and American Veterans who experienced the Secret War will follow the performances. We invite audiences to talk about these historical events through the lens of this artistic experience.
Evening performances being at 7:30 p.m. Matinees on April 19 and 27 at 2 p.m.
There will be an opening night gala on April 16. A community panel discussion fill follow the show on April 17, 18, and 19.
Tickets are $15, $10 (students/seniors/veterans), and Pay-What-You-Can on April 22. For more information, visit www.wetheater.org. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/581017. For group sales, email [email protected]
We Theater is an emerging physical theater company whose mission is to connect communities with stories of international importance and contemporary relevance. We are committed to creating challenging, ensemble-driven, imaginative, artistically refined and accessible new work that inspires a curiosity for life as it is, and a vision for life as it could be. More info at www.wetheater.org.