Culture theater

July 06, 2006|By MARC SHAPIRO | MARC SHAPIRO,SUN REPORTER

Daniel Meyer was in an unfamiliar place where he didn't know anybody. As a way to cope with culture shock and occupy his free time, he started to write songs to communicate his experiences to his American friends.

This temporary diversion for the Baltimore-based music teacher got serious when he showed the songs to Jonathan Gourlay, who wanted to put the songs together into a musical story. The end result, a year later, is Welcome to Micronesia, a musical adventure in paradise. The world premiere of the full production will be at the Theatre Project tomorrow and Saturday nights.

It's the story of four Americans who go to Micronesia - which consists of 607 small islands in the Western Pacific just north of the equator - in search of ways to help themselves and help others. Upon their arrival at the island of Pohnpei, they encounter an eel - a sacred animal in Pohnpei - with magical powers that casts a love curse on them. As the group splits into two couples, they try to help each other overcome the oddities of living in a new culture.

Director Rohaizad Suaidi, who also plays George in the musical, can identify with the story. He and Meyer, who are drama and music teachers, respectively, at the College of Micronesia, had to assimilate into new ways of life when they moved there.

"It was total culture shock," Suaidi said. "I lived in big cities all my life; then I came to Micronesia, where there's one paved road around the island, dial-up Internet for an entire college and no Starbucks or mall."

The character George flees to Micronesia after losing his accounting job in America. Suaidi, who earned his master's degree in theater from Towson University, was working in Malaysia when Meyer, a former Baltimore city schools music teacher, told him that the drama teacher at the College of Micronesia was leaving. Suaidi, who said he was looking for "the next thing," decided to jump at the opportunity to work in a new place.

"The gimmick is that this is a musical about expats from Micronesia performed by expats from Micronesia," Suaidi said.

Meyer said his songs not only help move the story along, but they also capture some of the unique cultural aspects of Micronesia.

"People spit all the time," he said.

Another song describes what it's like in the morning with pigs snorting, roosters crowing and dogs barking.

Suaidi thinks the musical makes serious points about why people from first-world countries go to places like Micronesia. It asks, "What are they doing? Why did they go there?"

It's about finding your role or function in the society you live in, he said. "It's not an easy question."

The Theatre Project is at 45 W. Preston St. Showtime both nights is 8 p.m. Tickets are $16 for the general public and $11 for students. Call 410-752-8558 or visit missiontix.com.

marc.shapiro@baltsun.com

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