Drama queen of the highest order

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People's Artist Kim Cuong will say farewell to the stage with a set of live performances

 
Senior artist Kim Cuong (R) performing in La Sau Rieng (Durian Leaf) in the late 1960s

Actress, film producer, scriptwriter Kim Cuong, considered the founder of modern theater in southern Vietnam, will be performing three times from August 6-8 at the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House.

Ta on doi (Thanksgiving) will be Kim Cuong's last performance on stage. She was motivated to organize the event as a way to express her gratitude to loyal fans and colleagues with the profits going to support orphans and the disabled.

At present, Kim Cuong, 75, once dubbed "the queen of drama" by Professor Tran Van Khe, one of the greatest masters of the traditional Vietnamese music, serves as deputy president of the city's Sponsoring Association for the Disabled and Orphans and member of the Sponsoring Association for Needy Patients.

Kim Cuong, who has been dedicating herself to charity projects since 2000, had never thought to organize a private show of her own until last April when she was honored with the title of People's Artist, the highest praise Vietnam bestows upon its artists.

The show will begin with a 45-minute session of famous traditional songs and dances performed by leading local singers, Cam Ly, Dam Vinh Hung, Anh Tuyet, and Quang Dung in homage to the way they have been presented by the Kim Cuong Drama Troupe in the past.

Then Kim Cuong, together with several famous artists, will perform excerpts from Tra Hoa Nu (Camellia) and La Sau Rieng (Durian Leaf), the play she wrote in 1961 which made her famous after it was first performed in 1968.

La Sau Rieng became famous as well, with thousands of productions of the play taking place all over Vietnam and abroad.

Kim Cuong was born in a traditional family in Saigon, the daughter of the talented cai luong artist Bay Nam. She fell in love with cai luong and began her professional career as a singer at the age of 19 in the cai luong play, Giai nhan va ac quy (The beauty and the beast).

"I became famous during 1954-1955 on the cai luong stage and was dubbed "˜Gifted woman' by the media in Saigon at that time, but by 1960 I realized that I got along better with theater people and preferred acting to singing," said the actress who founded the Kim Cuong Drama Troupe in 1967.

When she became an actress and playwright, Kim Cuong cast her mother to play the typical southern mother of the character she played, Dieu, in La Sau Rieng.

She went on to play the leading role in several historically significant plays, as well as write over 70 plays.

Theater in Saigon during the 1960s did not have its own stage, so only short plays or excerpts from plays were presented before either cai luong performances or film screenings.

The Kim Cuong Drama Troupe became a pioneer of Vietnamese theater by presenting full plays on stage in southern Vietnam at that time.

But it was her skill as a tragic playwright that won her the most accolades, as she was able to accurately depict the culture, lifestyle and social issues of southern Vietnam.

The Vietnam Book of Records recognized her as the country's most prolific female playwright in 2006.

Until 1975 when she stopped working in the movie industry, Kim Cuong also starred in and produced many feature films, taking home the awards for Best Actress and Best Script at the 1974 Asian Film Festival held in Taiwan.

"Kim Cuong is not only a real talent; she is also a real beauty and a good self-educator. As an ambassador of the Vietnamese arts, she was especially tactful to ensure that foreigners would respect the Vietnamese people," said Professor Khe, who performed with Kim Cuong and acclaimed artist Bay Phung Ha at UNESCO's International Music Council in Hamburg, Germany in 1973 and Switzerland in 1974.

"She also successfully transformed the French play "˜Camellia' by not merely translating it, but by giving it the style of a Vietnamese play. She was very adept at using foreign plays to enrich the Vietnamese theater scene."

Together with the live shows, the Phuong Nam Publishing House will also release three volumes of scripts penned by Kim Cuong later this year.

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