Forest Park is more and more becoming a center of global music and culture. Look at the Philippine Simbang Gabi service at St. Bernardine Church, or the World Music Series every year on Madison Street. 

Now, Forest Parkers can welcome Thai folk theater to the mix. St. Paul Lutheran Church presents a traditional Thai dance and drama performance called Likay by a troupe from Chiang Mai, Thailand on Wednesday, March 19.

The Likay dancers and actors are currently on tour in the U.S. They are professional staff members of the Christian Communications (CCI) arm of Payap University in Chiang Mai which is a cultural and educational center in northern Thailand. The program will feature dances from the four regions of Thailand and will conclude with a traditional Thai melodrama based on the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan.

Likay is a form of folk theater which is typically performed on a bare stage with actors wearing extravagant costumes and following a loosely constructed script which allows for a great deal of improvisation by the actors and imagination by the audience.

The Rev. Dr. Pongsak Limthongviratn, pastor St. Paul Thai Church, said that Rev. Robert Collins and his wife, Dr. Esther Wakeman–former directors of CCI–will translate into English the spoken lines of the play which will be in Thai. Pongsak said that Americans who come to Likay will experience an interesting and enlightening taste of a culture different from their own.

He also hopes that the performance will correct misperceptions of Thailand because of the protests currently going on in Bangkok. What is going on in Bangkok, he said, is nothing like what has been happening in Ukraine. Acknowledging that a few people have died in the demonstrations, he added, “Thai culture is a very peaceful, tranquil culture. Thai people in general are soft spoken, friendly and very hospitable. This kind of culture may be different from what people perceive through the social media these days because of the conflict in Bangkok.”

He added that Thai culture is becoming increasingly westernized. When you listen to the radio while driving around,” he said, “you mostly hear contemporary music or Western classical composers like Mozart or Beethoven. You hardly ever hear Thai classical music.”

“For Thais,” he continued, “Likay may remind them of their identity. They already retain much of their sense of identity, because through the internet they can read Thai newspapers when they get up in the morning, watch Thai TV and movies and keep up with relatives and friends through email, Facebook and Twitter. 

“Many Thais may think of Likay as old fashioned because they are bombarded these days by secularization. Those kinds of art forms have been neglected,” he added.

A press release from CCI stated, “The Institute was established almost forty years ago for the purpose of teaching Christian truth through the use of Thai cultural expressions. During the school year these artists lead week-long renewal programs for elementary and secondary students. They teach ethical and spiritual values by using music, dance, and drama. During the winter months the troupe performs traditional melodramas in rural villages on outdoor stages. Although the Institute’s principal ministry is in Thailand, its performers have presented their art in more than a dozen countries on four continents.”

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. and parking is available in the Grant-White Parking Lot. St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church is located at 7416 Dixon at the corner of Brown and Dixon. The program is free and will be followed by refreshments and Thai desserts.

Regarding the quality of the program, Collins said, “Wherever we go, folks from the audience almost always tell us, ‘If we’d known how good this was, we would have promoted it much more.”