Widgets Magazine

Student-written musical ‘Pawn’ sells out run

In her beautiful new musical entitled “Pawn,” Karmia Chan Cao ’11 explores the terror of war and how one moment really can change everything.

Sponsored by the Stanford Theatre Activist Mobilization Project (STAMP) and the Asian American Theater Project (AATP), this original piece of folk rock music made its first public debut while still in its very early stages last May under the name “Abraham Niu & the Friendly Fires” at STAMP’s “Spring into Action Play Festival.” Although at this time it was just a simple reading of an unfinished script, it was nonetheless well-received by its audience, and after spending her summer working on the piece, Cao finalized “Pawn.”

(Courtesy of STAMP/AATP)

This haunting show tells the story of an Asian-Canadian young man named Abraham Niu (Alex Kaneko ’12) as he fights with the American forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan. When a life-threatening situation arises, Niu finds himself suspended in time in what is called the “pawn shop of time,” where he must make an impossible decision regarding heroism and death. The pawn shop itself is not death and it is not life, it is not even a place – rather, it is an elongated moment in our lives where we meet our “couriers,” or those who lead us through life, protecting us and serving as our sense of intuition.

While there, Abraham is able to spend time with his mother (Sarah Guerrero ’11), who shows him the dark secrets of her past while begging him not to take himself away from her. Having already lost her eldest son, Kai, during the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and after living through incredible hardships herself as a result of the racial discrimination she faced for being a Chinese immigrant, Abraham’s mother’s character provides a new definition of the word “terror.”

Stepping away from our modern understanding of the word and the popular associations and connotations that it raises for us nowadays, this show examines instead the meaning of the word on a more personal level. Cao said that one of her motivations in creating the show was her desire “to look at terrorism and counter-terrorism, and what is the difference on the unit of a family.”

“I just wanted to explore terror in general, and talk about it,” she added. “Terror long existed before we defined it as this kind of terror, and that normal, everyday terror still exists for lots of people who live in avid fear, constant fear – and that that needs to be taken care of.”

The heart-wrenching scenes and songs shared between Niu and his mother deal heavily with the fear she has lived with her whole life and her belief in a higher power that has helped her through even her darkest moments.

This was Cao’s second original production. The first, entitled “Forgetting Tiburon, debuted at Stanford in April 2009. A published author of a book of original bilingual poetry, Cao is a creative writing major, and was recently named one of the 15 most influential undergraduates by “Mochi Magazine.”

Between the considerable musical and theatrical talents of Kaneko and Guerrero, and the chilling work of Cao, along with the strong abilities of the cast and crew as a whole, “Pawn” is sure to be a success among viewers.

“Pawn” is playing in the Nitery Theater next to Old Union Friday at 7:00 pm, with a Saturday showing at 2:00 pm. Next week, the musical takes its “Guerilla Tour” through FloMo lounge (Nov. 10), Okada lounge (Nov. 11) and Roble Theater (Nov. 12-13). All performances are sold out, but people may come early for standby.