The skit was billed as a comedy, and as the young Vietnamese actors swung into its theme -- Life in America -- the audience roared with laughter. After all, who in Vietnam had ever heard youngsters wisecracking and talking back to their parents?

But the laughter belied what many Vietnamese consider to be one of the major problems confronting their community as they adjust to American ways: the generation gap.

"The old people are incapable of controlling their children," said Father Tran Dinh Nhi, pastor of the Church of Blessed Vietnamese Martyrs in Annandale. "Many parents keep the suffering in their hearts. They talk about it with their children, but it doesn't help."

The performance last weekend by the Mekong Performing Arts Company, composed entirely of parishioners from Blessed Vietnamese Martyrs, was part of a day-long celebration of the second anniversary of the Catholic church. And while the community was celebrating its successes, several parishioners conceded that the community still faces problems in adjusting to America. Most of the parishioners came to this country in 1975 after the fall of Saigon.

Of particular concern to many community members is the fear that the culture of the homeland will be lost in the rush to blend into the American melting pot.

"I am sometimes very upset about the attitude our children have. My oldest boy, Tuan, was 13 when we left and he has trouble remembering what Vietnam was like," said Thu Bui, a human relations specialist for the Fairfax County schools. "My other two children, Thu Miu and Thuy Nhu, are 15 and 13 now, and they don't remember much at all. We are trying to get them to learn Vietnamese, to learn their culture and how to deal with the elderly.

"I had a rule, no English would be spoken at the dinner table and also in the car, but they wouldn't do it."

"Respect," Father Nhi says, "is the first thing the children learn in Vietnam."

Adds Bui: "In our culture, even shrugging your shoulders is disrespectful."

But younger Vietnamese say that it often is difficult to walk the fine line between the two cultures -- following the rules at home while trying to gain acceptance among their peers.

Quang Minh Le is a fourth grade student at Pine Spring Elementary School in Falls Church. Even though he has been in this country six of his nine years, he is well versed in his native culture and speaks Vietnamese and English fluently. Still, he admits, it is sometimes difficult to keep the two cultures in balance.

"Sometimes I want to forget (about Vietnam)," he said, "so I don't ask my mother about it."

Kim Cuong Ho, a Fairfax High School junior who prefers to be called Kathy, is proud of her upbringing and is trying to cope with two diverse societies.

"Students here don't have enough respect for teachers and the elderly," she said. "They call the teachers 'hey you.' My mom says have respect. Don't say 'hey you.' "

Kathy has tried to maintain the finer points of both cultures, but often has found herself in a tough position. "There is discrimination here. They (other students) pick on you a lot. The first time we arrived in high school, the Americans thought we didn't want to play with them. That's why they hated us. We are people . . . we are not from outer space . . . we are people, too.

"They think you don't know nothing, but we like the same music, we know about TVs, cars and dancing. Last year I had (a) punk haircut . . . They thought it was ugly, but this year, they all have it."

Despite the problems, Father Nhi said his parish has enjoyed many successes.

He says church members are doing very well in the business community, so well, in fact, that many families recently have moved from apartments into their own homes.

And the 1,200-member church -- the first Vietnamese-run Catholic church in the nation -- has reduced its debt to the Arlington Diocese, which secured the building loan, from $135,000 to $80,000.

"There's been a change in the spirit of cooperation among the parishioners," Father Nhi said. "When we established the church, the people didn't know where it would go. Now we have a very good group."

Still, Father Nhi and other community members worry that the drive toward Americanization may obscure the need to hold onto the proud heritage of their homeland.

"Our primary problem is how to preserve our spirituality," Father Nhi says. "The problem of Americanization has divided the Vietnamese community here into two extremes. The old generation, they cannot learn English. They have not overcome the language barrier. And the younger generation refuses to come back to the Vietnamese culture."

Before it is too late, Father Nhi suggests: "The older people should try to understand the younger ones and the younger ones should try to pick out the golden points of Vietnamese culture."