Thursday, June 2, 2016

PREVIEW: After the War Blues—MediaRites’ Theatre Diaspora—SW Portland

Building Bridges

This Oregon Premiere, staged reading, is written by Philip Kan Gotanda, co-directed by Bobby Bermea and Jamie Rea and produced by Dmae Roberts, Samson Syharath and Alex Haslett.  It is playing at 1:30 pm at PSU’s Lincoln Hall Studio Theatre, 1620 SW Park Ave., on Saturday, June 4th and Sunday, June 5th.  For more information, go to their site at http://www.theatrediaspora.org


This is not a review but a Preview of an upcoming, one-weekend only event.  It is about the aftermath of a shameful event in our history, the internment camps that Japanese American citizens were sent to during WWII.  The place is a boarding house in San Francisco, which houses, not only the above mentioned citizens, but also African Americans, white Southern migrants, and Russian Jews, all trying to claim their part of the “American Dream” with limited resources.  Their attempt to mend fences and build bridges to find a new harmony is the basis of his play.

Pope Francis has said that we should not be “building walls” between countries/cultures but seeking ways to “build bridges.”  Armed with all this information, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Gotanda, who, I understand, will be in attendance at these performances and is also teaching a master class in playwriting.  So many playwrights have personal connections to the tales they weave and so I was interested in Gotanda’s background as it related to the internment camps.

His entire family and friends from his community in Stockton were put into these Camps.  Gotanda was born and raised in the post-Camps of the 50’s & 60’s.  A “normal” question among Nisei (2nd Generation) was to ask what camp they had been in.  Gotanda continues, “On the surface I sensed nothing extraordinary about what happened.  At that time.   Later, as the event was recalled, re-examined,  openly remembered, my awareness, consciousness about what it was, how it affected my parents, how it affected my entire community as well as myself, was developed.

This begs the questions, then, as to how he overcame something like this (if you ever completely do)?  He agrees that, because of this, his view of the “white, dominate culture…was skewed.”  But he admits, “The remembrance, study of and writing about it, was a way for me to understand, put it into perspective and realize who and what I was as an American in this American society.  And in the world.”  I, too, find that the Arts in general, and writing, specifically, can be cathartic.

Although he feels much has been learned about the events that led up to this, and the aftermath, that nothing can be done to “make things right.”  Another way might be, as he says, “Rather than, what to do to ‘make it right’, perhaps the important throughline should be, ‘How did it happen?’, and, ‘We must be vigilant that that violation of US Citizenry and rights not be repeated’.”  Amen to that, but perhaps easier said than done.

But he postulates that it can be addressed, if you speak out and…“take some intelligent, strategic course of action to address it.   In the immediate, be wary of Trump and his world view and respond to it.”  Couldn’t agree more with that statement, as you view the circus the political system has become, one might wonder and, perhaps, fear the current state of affairs.  Building barriers are not the answer…building inroads are.

He confesses that being an American in America, in this day and age, is an “extremely complicated…frighteningly difficult task.”  Everyone has a story and, “If this is all going to work, everyone must accept the responsibility of knowing the other bodies as well as one’s own.   You have to try.  You probably will fail in degrees but you also learn in degrees and that is something to build on in your next action of responsible, mindful living.

All in all, this is a timely piece.  In my mind, it not only speaks of our shameful behavior toward Japanese Americans but also to African Americans, Native Americans and any cultural or religious beliefs that don’t happen to agree with the majority.  It may be that you can’t teach an “old dog, new tricks” but there are generations after us (if we last that long) that could make a difference.  There is a song from the musical, South Pacific, called “Carefully Taught,” which, speaking about children, in part says, “You have to be carefully taught to hate and to fear…” as this is not something that comes naturally to the young.  So, the obvious conclusion is, let’s stop teaching that to our next generation!!!  Duh.

I recognize many of the cast of this play, all who are fine actors, and this, I’m sure, will be an eye-opening and thoughtful play, hopefully promoting lively discussions.  So go see it and tell them Dennis sent you.