Around 500 villagers have gathered at a former Khmer Rouge prison camp in Takeo province to watch the performance. The crowd, at Kraing Ta Chan prison in Tram Kok district, bursts into laughter as a man acting like a monkey jumps on stage, but soon, the play turns more serious.
In another scene, a man asks a former Khmer Rouge soldier whether she’s heard of any massacres by the regime. She quickly tells him, “No. There were no killings in this village.”
“You are telling lies!” shouts a victim.
The play, “Breaking the Silence,” which encourages Cambodians to speak out about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge—as victims or soldiers—has begun a second tour.
The play, a series of skits by six performers from Amrita Performing Arts, depicts the atrocities of the regime and their impact on modern Cambodia.
“As suggested by its title, the play is aimed at calling people to talk, talk, and talk about what happened during the Khmer Rouge period,” said Suon Bun Rith, country director for Amrita Performing Arts. “We talk not to retain anger but to reconcile and find ways to live together in harmony for the sake of the next generation.”
The play, sponsored by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, was first performed last February in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kandal and Takeo, ahead of the trial of Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, by the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.
The second tour, from Feb. 3 to Feb. 12, comes as the tribunal prepares Case No. 002, with a trial of Duch and four senior leaders of the regime expected to begin later this year.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center, said the play seeks to encourage more people pay attention to the tribunal.
“All the scenes are from facts, and we want people to better understand that Case No. 002 is the most important and historical for them,” he said. “And through the court, we want people to look at how they can reconcile with and forgive low-ranking Khmer Rouge cadres now living next door.”
Annemarie Prins, the Dutch author of the play, said she hoped it would keep people talking about past ordeals and help them deal with psychological trauma.
“The big trauma is still with the people who survived, and many of them find it very difficult to talk about what happened,” she said. “And to talk about trauma, especially genocide, is very important in order to work through the terrible time for both perpetrators and victims; it’s extremely important to heal and to be able say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ to somebody you harmed in some way or another.”
Soy Ser, a former prisoner at Kraing Ta Chan, said he felt less angry with former Khmer Rouge soldiers after seeing the play.
“When they performed in a scene where they try to reconcile, my anger calmed down a bit,” said the 52-year-old survivor, who lives in the same neighborhood as some of the Khmer Rouge he encountered.
Khim Sochanvireak, a 12th grader from Chea Sim Takeo high school, said the performance had helped him understand better what happened under the Khmer Rouge, convincing him the regime was murderous.
“The play makes us understand that Pol Pot killed his own people,” he said. “So we should not let the same thing happen again.”