The Servant of Saigon: Thoughts on watching my first play in Vietnam

Saw a play in Saigon tonight with my Cousin Duc and his wife Phoung. It was called “O Sin” which means “The Servant.” There are some interesting differences between the theatre I saw in Saigon tonight and theatre in America.
As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I felt somewhat naked. Why do my hands feels so empty? Ah yes. Programs. Where’s my program? How do I know who is in the cast? Is there an intermission? Most importantly, who’s the playwright? No one received a program.
In America, there is typically a live or prerecorded curtain speech, to give pertinent instructions to the audience and to let them know the show will start momentarily. This eases the audience into theatre watching mode. During this time cell phones get turned off (yeah right) and candy gets unwrapped (not really). In Saigon, what sounds like an evacuation alarm sounds off and all house lights are killed. I thought Saigon was falling again. This combination of sight and sound jolts everyone into turning off their cell phones and unwrapping their candy. A minute later, another evacuation alarm sounds off, lights come up on stage and the play begins.  Abrupt, but effective.
After the first scene ended, much to my surprise, I was able to follow the story. During the blackout, an announcement was heard. I asked my dad to translate. He said the announcer was introducing the cast and telling us there’s an intermission. Ah. So much for needing programs.
At the end of the show, only some principal actors took their bows. I asked about it afterwards and my cousin’s wife Phoung said the other actors probably went to work on another show. She also said all the theatres in Saigon pay their actors. Nice!
However, one thing will remain the same in theatre no matter what side of the globe you’re on…the botched light cue.  When it happened, I felt a strange sense of comfort.
After the show we stopped at a restaurant to get some late night Pho. My dad, cousin and his wife all reminisced about how used to go to the theatre together when they were younger. Both Duc and Phoung hadn’t gone to see theatre in a long time, so they were both very happy to take me out to see a play. I asked if either of them had ever acted before, and to my surprise, Phoung, during her first year in medical school, starred in a play about AIDS awareness and acceptance! That’s one of two major coincidences regarding my play RED FLAMBOYANT that I’ve discovered since being here in Vietnam. The other coincidence you’ll have to read here.


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