Book, Music and Lyrics by Erin Kamler

FOREIGN is a new musical about the politics of modern Burma and the plight of women’s rights activists, diplomats, and international aid workers striving to end the country’s civil war amidst the onset of the Rohingya genocide.

The story opens in November, 2016. Emerging from decades of isolation, Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a nation in transition. Military rule has left the former British colony impoverished and devastated, and ethnic war ravages the land. Despite this, hopes are running high that Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which swept the country’s first democratic elections in a landslide victory, will usher in a new era of peace.

Reeling from the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, human rights attorney Emma Gable arrives in Rangoon (Yangon) on assignment with the NGO Human Rights Collective to investigate Burma’s transition. Emma attends a soiree at the posh Bonneville Hotel, an elegant old colonial outpost turned five-star hotel. There, she meets the dazzling Ma May, an ‘88 generation activist and prominent feminist leader whom the donors are enamored by; Annabel, a dedicated aid worker championing women’s participation in the peace process; her husband Daniel, a self-assured British diplomat reveling in the perks of ex-pat life; and other foreigners who opens Emma’s eyes to the thrill of Rangoon in all its magnificence and decay. Diving into her work, Emma falls in love with a country whose people seem determined to heal the wounds of their traumatic past.

Meanwhile, as Ma May reaps the rewards of her lifetime of achievements, she receives a call from her estranged brother Koh Johnnie imploring her to return to the family home and visit their ailing father. Ma May is pulled into the tumultuous memories of her father’s rise to military Commander, and the devastating events that propelled her to renounce him in her youth. Throwing her support behind Ma May’s organization, Annabel becomes attracted to Ma May and begins to question her happiness in her marriage to Daniel. The women’s friendship deepens, and the two become lovers. Emma, digging deeper, discovers the affair—a criminal offense under the repressive regime—and realizes the danger that her knowledge could create.

But when a wave of violence breaks out in Muslim-dominated Rakhine State and the people of Burma—including Emma’s activist colleagues—openly condone mass atrocities and the displacement of thousands, Emma realizes that this country is not the success story it’s been made out to be. Digging deeper, Emma discovers details about Ma May’s past that could destroy her reputation. On top of all this, as she watches America grow increasingly fractured and violent, Emma wonders whether she can ever go home again.

As the crisis in Rakhine escalates and polarization between the aid workers and the people of Burma grows, Emma and her activist colleagues must each decide where their allegiances lie. At the same time, caught between her destructive love affair with a country in chaos and the responsibility to report the truth, Emma must decide what she is willing to stand for, and at what cost.

FOREIGN is the second work in award-winning composer-playwright Erin Kamler’s MONSOON TRILOGY, a series of musicals about human rights issues in Southeast Asia.

Click To Listen
1. Black Shoes
2. The Golden Land
3. Something Better