Cultural News

Reviewed by Dominic Mah

"The play unfolds with all the pleasures of an old movie, offering warmth and perspective on a significant moment in history."

The Secret Rose Theatre's production of John Patrick's Pulitzer Prize-winning play is much like the taste of tea itself - bracing, familiar, and comfroting, with a trace bitterness. Set in the American military's post-World War II occupation of Okinawa, the play deals with one officer's attempt to indoctrinate the natives in the wyas of Western democracy.

This duty falls on Captain Fisby (Paul Denniston, an oddball personality and failed accountant. On orders from his gruff superior Colonel Purdy (Tony Matthews), Fisby goes to the remote village of Tobiki with only a mammoth instruction book ("Plan B") and a chipper translator named Sakini (Keisuke Hoashi) to guide him.

The ensuing clash of cultures provides the spark for a funny and wise production that moves briskly under the direction of Mike Rademaekers.

Fisby's first tries at installing a democratic government in Tobiki are predictably foiled by the villagers' customs. He can't find a market fo the bowls, chopsticks, or cricket cages made by the resident craftsmen.

However, a local brandy made from sweet potatoes proved to be a cash cow, and export of the liquor generates enough cash for the villager to realize a dream - the construction of a luxurious teahouse, just like those in the big cities.

Along the way the play delivers many sharp and comical observations on the folly of the occupation and on the Okinawans' long history of being colonized by more powerful nations.

At one point, Fisby offers to lean the local dialect, to which his commanding officer replies, "No need, we won the war." Fisby notes that the results of the occupation effort are "a step backwards in the right direction."

The challenging scope of the story is well-served by a good set design (Michael Vaccaro and Mark Preston Miller) and able actors speaking dialogue in both English and Japanese.

At certain points, some cast members lapse into rather dated tics in portraying the unfailingly polite and jovial viallgers. This is one of the play's few weaknesses.

Overall, the play unfolds with all the pleasures of an old movie, offering warmth and perspective on a significant moment in history.