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    2008-2009 reviews:
  • Anaïs Nin Goes To Hell
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    Secret History

    Who in the world are we?

    Six new Americans tell the extraordinary stories that brought them to the United States and share their observations about what they found here in "Secret History."


    A memory of childhood in Beirut:

    Company: Ping Chong.
    Directed by: Ping Chong.
    Cast: Trinket Monsod (from the Philippines), Vaimoana Niumeitolu (Tonga), Hiromi Sakamoto (Japan), Tania Salmen (Lebanon, Venezuela), Patrick Ssenjovu (Uganda), Cherry Lou Sy (Philippines).

    Related links: Official site
    "I have to go to the bathroom. There are two bathrooms, one on each end of the apartment. Just as I am flushing the toilet, a bomb explodes nearby. If I had chosen the other bathroom, I would not be here today."

    So recounts Tania Salmen, a participant in "Secret History," a very interesting documentary theater piece in which six people from five countries — no, six countries; no, seven — tell what brought them to America, and what they found when they got here. There's a lot of "if not for such-and-such, I would not be here today," and it's amazing the combination of big upheavals and small coincidences, from the atom bomb to a girl in a VW Beetle, that conspired to bring these individuals together on a New York stage this fall.

    The two fish most out of water when they came to this country were Hiromi Sakamoto of Japan and Vaimoana Niumeitolu of Tonga in the South Pacific. Sakamoto got his first taste of America as an exchange student in Mississippi, where he found himself unable to relate to the white kids but readily accepted by the black kids. Niumeitolu's mother was converted by Mormon missionaries in Tonga — but was in for a shock when she moved the family to Utah, where nearly all the Mormons were white. Rather than being welcomed as fellow followers, the mother and two daughters unexpectedly found themselves outsiders to the American Mormons because of their skin color and gender.

    The show mixes history, family legends, personal memories, songs, dancing, and nursery rhymes. There are a few wicked twists, too, like this one: after several participants get up to perform traditional songs and dances from their homelands, Trinket Monsod of the Philippines takes her turn — but her country's native song and dance is a come-on to American soldiers or mail-order bride shoppers.

    "Secret History" feels a little like a wholesome educational presentation, but it also works well on the downtown stage. It's a thorough exploration of race, society, identity and the history of today's immigrants, but given a warmly personal treatment. It's a pleasure to get to know these six new Americans and hear their remarkable stories.

    NOVEMBER 29, 2000

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