'The Latehomecomer' to be presented on Holmes Theatre stage Tuesday night
The show is an adaptation of Minnesota author Kao Kalia Yang's memoir of her family's immigration story.
DETROIT LAKES — A unique opportunity to learn more about the Hmong culture in Minnesota is coming to the stage of Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre this Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.
"The Latehomecomer," an adaptation of Minnesota author Kao Kalia Yang's memoir of her family's immigration story, is coming to Detroit Lakes courtesy of Literature to Life, a New York City-based organization dedicated to bringing some of literature's greatest works to life on the stage. Yang's story of the same name was the winner of a PEN USA Literary Award for Nonfiction and Minnesota’s Book Award.
Starring Hmong-American performance artist, musician, vocalist, published writer, educator, arts administrator and entrepreneur Gaosong Heu, this one-person play is a story that encompasses the history, music and culture of the Hmong, from the Vietnam War to their immigration to America.
It was adapted for the stage by Elise Thoron and Aurea Tomeski . Thoron, the co-founder and current artistic director of Literature for Life, chose to work with Tomeski, one of the organization's large cast of actors and teaching artists, because of Tomeski's interest in Yang's book.
"Aurea is Filipino American, so she is very interested in Asian American material, and the process of adapting it (to the stage)," Thoron said in a recent telephone interview. "She was also responsible for casting (the show)."
Thoron noted that while some of the authors whose works they adapt for the stage aren't involved in the process at all, "Kao Kalia very much wanted to see the adaptation, and had a couple of good suggestions, mostly in how we approached translating the language, and has been so supportive of the process."
"It's a beautifully crafted memoir, with poetic language," Thoron said. "It's been an extraordinary pleasure to work with, and Gaosong brought a lot of her own experiences and her family's experiences to the process as well."
Gaosong Heu , the artist that Tomeski chose to bring Kao Kalia Yang's story to life, is from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, just like the author. Thoron noted that Heu was studying at Columbia University in an arts administration program when she decided to audition for the role. It was right around the time when the COVID-19 pandemic hit that she did her initial audition in New York, and she went back to St. Paul — so many of the rehearsals, and even the show's premiere, were done remotely.
"The show was wonderful as a video premiere — it was the best that we could do at the time — but it took a huge leap as she (Heu) started to perform with the different live audiences, varying from adults to students," Thoron said. "Everyone finds their own way of connecting with the material."
In each show, which lasts about an hour, Heu works with a teaching artist. During the Minnesota shows, that artist will be Pedro Bayon, who is relatively new to Literature for Life. Bayon, a native of Puerto Rico, has a variety of acting credits on his resume, most of them from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He has worked with the Pangea World Theater, History Theatre, Children’s Theatre Co., Frank Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Park Square Theatre, Teatro del Pueblo and more.
Bayon and Heu will be giving an artist talk after the show, Thoron noted, and the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions.
About the story
“The Latehomecomer” takes its name from a short story by Canadian writer Mavis Gallant and references Jews who returned home from internment hoping to find homes that no longer existed.
It tells the story of the thousands of Hmong families that made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand, finally immigrating to America, in search of a place to call home. Lacking a written language of their own until the 1950s, the Hmong have worked hard to make their voices heard.
Kao Kalia Yang's memoir is a tribute to her late grandmother, whose spirit held their family together, but is told through the eyes of the author as a young girl, born in the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand and immigrating to the United States when she was just six years old. It follows her journey from a quiet, reticent student struggling to speak English while facing racial discrimination, to a self-empowered young woman claiming her voice to tell the untold story of her people.
If you go
What: "The Latehomecomer"
Where: Historic Holmes Theatre, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes
When: Tuesday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m.
Who: Presented by Literature to Life, featuring Hmong American actor Gaosong Heu and teaching artist Pedro Bayon.
How: Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students, and can be purchased online at dlccc.org/holmes-theatre.html , by phone at 218-844-7469, or in person at the Holmes Box Office, which is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, and will also be open for two hours before the show.