Peou is in a bad situation, and it doesn’t look like anyone can help.
She is poor, and so is her family. Her sister has married a drunken lout. Her father owes money and his creditors are losing patience.
A scheming matchmaker has dug up a rich old man who says he’ll marry her, but he makes Peou’s skin crawl. And anyway, she’s in love with Sorn, a poor-but-decent village youth.
That is the what’s happening as “A Wounded Life” begins—and then bad things start to happen.
“A Wounded Life,” a play about trafficking women in Cambodia, opens Saturday at 6 pm at the North Campus theater of the Royal University of Fine Arts on Street 70, just west of the Japanese bridge.
The play, written by Hout Sithan, Khem Bophavy and Ros Kuntheara (who also directed), was funded by USAID through the Asia Foundation. It will be performed at the university four times Saturday and Sunday and again next weekend.
The play will be performed in Khmer. Free English scripts can be picked up at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at 38 Sothearos Boulevard.
“A Wounded Life” is a bleak, harrowing story that also brims with life and even humor as the characters squabble over money, plot and connive, and ultimately band together.
Sad to say, it’s also a painfully accurate account of what can happen to poor village girls who fall into the hands of predators.
Co-authors Hout Sithan and Ros Kuntheara said it was written over three years with the help of nongovernmental organizations that fight trafficking, including the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center and the Women’s Media Center of Cambodia.
The authors spent months talking to sex workers and NGO experts to ensure that the story they tell rings true. When the script was finished, they held readings at the Russian Cultural Center, again to make sure they had the details right.
Both authors are drama professors at the University of Fine Arts, and some of the 21 cast members attend classes there. While cast and crew are being paid for their work, they say that’s not their motivation.
“The performers are doing this for love, because they believe in the issue,” Ros Kuntheara said.
The authors, both 41, have long experience in political and educational drama.
Both won scholarships to the former Soviet Union in the 1980s, where Ros Kuntheara studied film-making and Hout Sithan writing.
Like many university professors, they are jacks-of-all-trades in their chosen field, switching between writing, producing, directing and performing as opportunity and need dictates.
They have worked on plays about domestic violence, AIDS and election law, as well as Cambodian karaoke and video productions.
The authors say live drama, popular in Phnom Penh before the war, has all but disappeared. It’s been at least two years since an original live production was staged in the city, they say.
“We’re not really sure if a Cambodian audience will be interested in modern drama or not,” Hout Sithan said.
“A Wounded Life” certainly contains enough plot twists and lurid action to engage interest. Selfish relatives scheme to sell family members. Evil-doers administer drugs to keep their victims docile.
There are love scenes, fight scenes and terrible betrayals. There are characters who struggle with the big moral questions: What is the right thing to do? How does one find the strength to do it?
Once the play’s public run is finished, a fifth performance will be videotaped for eventual television broadcast on March 15.
Hout Sithan says he loves working in modern drama because Cambodia cannot yet afford a dynamic film industry, and plays like “A Wounded Life” allow artists the chance to grapple with serious social issues.
And, according to Ros Kuntheara, it’s the social issues—the questions of daily living—that artists really want to tackle.