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The Sins of the Fathers

Posted by djingodjango on Saturday, July 19, 2014

I live in a town which triples in population during the summer. Meredith NH is located on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee and has been the gathering place for well over a century for middle and upper class folks from Boston and other urban areas in New England (we call them "flatlanders") who wish to escape the city when the weather grows unbearable. 

There is money to be had in these here hills.l to r -

Some of the money is spent attending summer theaters which sprout like mushrooms in New Hampshire from June to September,and Meredith has two of them - not mushrooms - summer theaters.  As a 31 year wedding anniversary present from our kids, several of whom have a bit of that theater blood in them, they  gave us two tickets to attend a show, and last night we did just that. It was "Miss Saigon".

"Miss Saigon" is a musical with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil, and music by Claude Michel Schonberg. They come armed with heavy credibility as they gave us"Les Miserables".

"Miss Saigon" is the 12th longest running broadway musical of all times which is remarkable considering the company they keep such as "The Sound of Music", "Oklahoma","My Fair Lady", "Cats", "Guys and Dolls" and so many more whose titles have become part of the broadway patois for the last seventy-five years.

I wish I had the space to list all the cast and crew from this show which left my wife and I stunned and left me with a 50 year old memory.

"Miss Saigon" is a modern retelling of the Puccini opera "Madam Butterfly" in which a young geisha and a young American Naval officer fall in love. He leaves "Butterfly" with a promise to return someday, which he does but with his American bride. "Butterfly" has had his child in the meantime, and this news which destroys her hopes and dreams causes her to take her own life at the end.  

As Bugs Bunny says at the end of the WB cartoon "What's Opera Doc?", "What did you expect from an opera? A happy ending?"

Now the setting is South Vietnam towards the end of the American presence and a few days before the helicopter lands on the roof of the embassy in Saigon and gave us that picture of frightened Vietnamese clambering over each other to try and escape before the North Vietnamese pour into the city. They would be hunted down and shot as traitors by the new government. (By the way that scene was electrifying and left me numb! Hats off to the director Brian Feehan and tech director, Bryant Cyr!)

It was that iconic photo of the children left behind, and lifted up in despair to the chopper by hysterical mothers which caught the attention of Boublin, Schonberg and Maltby. What we had done to the country, we had done to the women of that country and left thousands of "Bui-doi", children of mixed blood, or "dust" as some carelessly put it.

"Madam Butterfly" is now "Kim" (played to perfection by Quynh My Luu) a bar girl who had lost her parents in an apparent napalming of her village. We see her first night in the bar, operated by a spot on sleaze named" Engineer" (Antonio Rodriguez III) She meets the American marine, Sgt. Christopher Scott (Justin Luciano...what a voice!)

Events progress to the bitter end and Kim takes her own life after giving up Chris and her son "Tam", played by tiny toddler Benjamin Tedcastle with mind blowing innocence and acting chops far beyond what his four year old face and body belies.

But what I really want to talk about is not this play (superb) the actors, directors, crew, technicians and ensemble (professional and up to any standard on Broadway right now!) but about a memory I had.

It was one of the first scenes when Kim agrees to become a hooker at the bar. I suddenly remember seeing this before. For real.

Many years ago when I was embedded as a military correspondent and photographer with the 1st Cavalry in South Korea, I spent time in one of the local villages.

Paju Ri was a typical town in a third world country in the middle of the last century. Dusty and poor with an agrarian culture that was dependent on rice as an economic backbone.

I could travel anywhere and at anytime with my journalist credentials and, as an 18 year old healthy boy, I visited many towns, including Paju Ri.

                                                                                              There was a bar called the Black Cat Club I frequented where I would sample Korean beer (vile), Philippine suds (even viler) and Koreas answer to saki - mokoli! (if you had a death wish!)

And there were girls. Lots of Korean young women spouting American names, Sandra, Jane and Diana. (Diana was a woman I had strong feelings for and decided to rent a "hooch" with her. Hilarity did not ensue and that is a story for another day.)

One Friday night, a new girl was introduced to the GI's gathered. I don't remember her name. But I do remember she did​ not look comfortable even a little embarrassed, perhaps. And she was dressed in her finest clothes, I'm sure. Those on this site who have visited the "Land of the Morning Calm" probably remember the long dresses and high waistline up to the chest or "folk costumes" worn by Korean women.. She was a little on the heavy side and was trumpeted by a local pimp as a "cherry girl". A virgin. I wasn't exactly on speaking terms with that name anymore....but I still remember feeling somewhat awkward at that moment. She was easily my age, and probably younger. I don't recall.

I left the club later that night wondering about her for she had disappeared as the evening progressed.

The next weekend I dropped into the place where everyone knows your name and saw her again. I had to look twice. The change was ugly.

Before there was a fresh face, a timid smile and pretty eyes. Now there was harsh makeup, thick mascara, rouge, crimson lipstick and clothes that were too tight, too provocative and a face in which the smile had run away, perhaps never to return. I grew in unasked for wisdom that night. It was as though a flower had been stepped on and then propped up with sticks, coated in lacquer and sprinkled with confetti. A gentle bird crushed and then stapled to a board. It just wasn't right.

I wondered at the change and what had driven her to seek this way of life.  Did she have parents? Was she a farm girl? 

The show I saw brought me back to those clubs and to a woman whose story was older then time and marched in step with conquering armies of brutish men since we first picked up clubs and learned to kill one another. I have never forgotten this persons face or the sadness that washed over me back then.

The show is remarkable, the acting and singing is excellent. The memories are sad.

Pictures above:  

1. Interlakes Summer Theater cast-"Miss Saigon"(left to right) "Kim", Quynh My Lu, "Engineer", Antonio Rodriguez III, "Chris", Justin Luciano.

2. "Miss Saigon" logo

3. Your truly South Korea, 1960


(C) 2014 George Locke













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