When theater director Bob Passion started working with 14 Cambodian actors and circus performers four weeks ago, he handed them a challenge. Can we speak about love without talking about sex, and, nowadays, can we talk about sex without thinking of HIV-AIDS? Passion asked them.
The fact is that, in Cambodia, one does not speak of love and sex, said actor Meth Vanry, a 25-year-old modern theater graduate from the National School of Fine Arts now studying at the National Institute of Education.
Passion, 46, gave the artists an outline of what he wanted and told the actors to build it into a play based on their own observations of what it is to be 20 years old and dealing with love and sex in Cambodia.
“At first, they were very timid addressing those topics,” said Passion, a French theater veteran who opened the performing arts center Bhor in Sihanoukville in 2005.
The end result, however, is a play entitled “Let’s Talk About Love,” which will be presented at Chenla Theater on Saturday and Sunday evening, in Khmer with English subtitles.
The show, featuring 10 young actors and four members of a professional circus company, is meant for “today’s young Cambodians caught between tradition and MTV,” Passion said.
It deals with topics such as falling in love for the first time, having sex for the first time and sex before marriage.
“All things that are alive and well in Cambodia but not talked of,” said Fred Frumberg of the NGO Amrita Performing Arts, which produced the show with funding from the international aid agency CARE Cambodia.
The play consists of short comedy vignettes with some circus and magic acts that broach serious topics with a light touch through bits of dialogue and narration.
Movie-style mood music and pop music mark scene changes as panels with bright street scenes are replaced by house interiors.
The story follows people growing up, starting with birth and infancy, moving on to school grounds where 10-year-old boys and girls goad each other, and ending with 20-year-olds willing and ready for love.
Two characters host the show, one of them playing Cupid and wearing wings.
As Cupid demonstrates, the people he hits with his arrows fall in love with each other. But Cupid is not always accurate and can be temperamental. After hitting one young man, he slips and hits two young women with one arrow: They both fall in love with the young man and compete in hula-hoop circus acts to win him over.
Later, Cupid is woken one night by two young men, merry and loud after too much drinking. He first throws water at them to sober them up; when that fails, he angrily shoots arrows at them and the young men fall in love with each other.
In another scene, a woman has to deal with her boyfriend who has taken off his shirt and wants to go further than she is prepared to. This is culturally incorrect, she says, and we are too young. She manages to get rid of him.
In another scene, women speak, sing and dance their way into pointing out the different moral standards applying to men and women in Cambodia. For instance, men with many wives and girlfriends are considered charmers and virile, while women with many boyfriends are frowned upon and viewed as depraved, said Khen Vanthoeurn, 20, a circus-art student at the National School.
One of the play’s goals is to remind people to protect themselves against HIV-AIDS. In a fashion show scene, a commentator describes why condoms should be worn while actors, moving in the languid body posturing of models, parade with large art photos of condoms.
Further into the show, three excited young men, out on the town in a red car cutout, are stopped by the sex police who ask for their driver’s license and also check whether they have condoms.
The play ends with all the couples—including Cupid, who finds a girlfriend—dancing on stage. “All done with a smile,” Passion added.