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Reviewed by Robert Axelrod

"(It) provides good old-fashioned delight for the audience and sharp political commentary that remains valid today. John Patrick’s play is pure genius, and RADEMAEKERS and cast serve it well."


Fire Rose Production’s TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON makes no pretense at being anything other than it is; a good old thoroughly entertaining revival of John Patrick’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning classic, from a book by Vern Snyder.  And thoroughly entertaining it is.

Director Mike Rademaeker’s actors are perfectly cast, from Ian Shen’s Sakini (he alternates the role with Keisuke Hoashi), and Paul Denniston’s Captain Fisby (he also alternates with Evan Andes), to the ensemble characters in the oft conquered but never-say-die Tobiki Village, on the isle of Okinawa.

For those who don’t know the plot, the basics are simple, but the political undertones in this gentle tale are socio-politically rich.  Gung-ho-bucking-for-General Colonol Purdy, played on the money by Tony Matthews, assigns our hero, Captain Fisby, to implement Plan B.  Plan B is the good ol' USA’s master blueprint to Americanize post WW II occupied Japan, including the little village of Tobiki.  He assigns hero number two and narrator of this tale, Sakini, to Fisby as interpreter.  One immediate problem is that our Captain Fisby has utterly failed at his last three military assignments, but he promises to make good on this one.  At the center of Plan B: "Build a Pentagon shaped schoolhouse in the village, and teach the ignorant villagers of Tobiki the ABCs and the American Democratic way of life.  But…"the best laid plans of mice and men" go astray.  The Villagers aren't as ignorant as the patronizing American Military Establishment thinks they are, a situation that provides good old-fashioned delight for the audience and sharp political commentary that remains valid today.  John Patrick’s play is pure genius, and Rademakers and cast serve it well.

Ian Shen plays Sakini as more the innocent native than the scoundrel-manipulator.  He is terrific; he lights the stage and delights us whether he’s narrating or interacting.  Paul Denniston’s performance as Captain Fisby is nothing short of astonishing.  When he first enters via a meeting with Colonol Purdy, he’s all wide-eyed and frantic.  I thought (knowing the plot), “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble here.  Is he going this direction throughout?” But Denniston is just setting us up.  Once he’s in Tobiki and Sakini explains the true function of Geisha Girl Lotus Blossom (beautifully played by production’s producer Kaz Mata-Mura) he, right before our eyes, and so simply but directly done, goes through an amazing transformation.  Layers of tension and nerves fall from his body and soul, and in an incredible actor’s transition that was only perhaps thirty seconds in length, but was above and beyond time, Denniston’s Fisby totally relaxes into his spiritual element.  The moment gave me chills and I compliment the actor to the fullest.  Now we love him!  Blackout, and then next scene he’s out of uniform, in his bathrobe and Japanese sandals, relaxed, with an angelic smile, thoroughly imbued with the Tobiki lifestyle.  There are transitions and spiritual uplifts galore in this play, like when Purdy catches wind that things aren’t going according to Plan B in Tobiki and rushes Army psychiatrist Captain McLean (played sturdily by Paul Lirette) to psychoanylize the situation.  McLean swiftly gets caught up in the gentle Tobiki lifestyle as well, via his love for working with soil, and soon he’s out of uniform and in his “Tobiki pajamas”.

I could go on and on.  Let me just single out actress Kayo as Mrs. Higa Jiga as particularly outstanding among the able ensemble, and again compliment Ian Shen for his wonderfully spiritual Sakini.  I got chills, cried at the end.  Yes, all the pieces CAN fit together in this puzzle we call life.  Fisby sums it up for me, and I’m paraphrasing, darn it: Life is not about Democracy; that’s just a method.  It’s about Faith.  I give this one 3 12 Axels, my only qualm being that the Rose’s publicity department contacted us to review so late in the run.

Interesting to note is this play was published in 1952, at the height of the McCarthy era.  How it escaped that "American Hitler's" scrutiny and was made into a major motion picture in 1956, starring Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford, is beyond me.  But, then again, life is about Faith.  Have faith and see this play, running one more weekend, Jan 17th & 18th at 8 PM, Jan 19th at 2 PM.  The Secret Rose Theatre is located at 11246 Magnolia Blvd, in NoHo.  Free parking's snap.  Tix are $18, $15 for Seniors & Students.  Handicapped accessible.  Call (818) 623-4291 for res & info.

 

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