Reviewed by Edward Goto
"Go and see 'Teahouse of the August Moon' and you'll experience the best of what live theatre can be."
Take Your Geta Off, Sip Some Tea, and Let the Fun Begin
Recently, I attended the Secret Rose Theatre's production of "Teahouse of the August Moon" in North Hollywood. "Teahouse" is a half century old Pulitzer Prize winning play by John Patrick based on the book by Vern Snyder. The Secret Rose is a relatively small theatre and the production I had seen a few years ago was on a stage three times larger, so I honestly was not expecting much. However, to my surprise and pleasure the production was quite impressive.
"Teahouse" is set in post WWII Okinawa, Japan. As American occupation forces set up to reorganize and revitalize Okinawa, they interact with the locals with hilarious results.
What I remembered of the production I saw years before was that it was a light comedy. However, I realized in this second viewing that you can't let the comic overtones fool you. Maybe I am older and wiser now, but I found that this play has much more political and social commentary than I had previously realized.
In these times of "war" in Iraq and its aftermath, this play is coincidentally very relevant to current world events. In the play, the superior and arrogant American forces, represented by Colonel Purdy played by actor Tony Matthews, with their "can do" attitude and education occupy the fictional Okinawan town of Tobiki in order to save the conquered villagers from themselves. Eventually, the villagers of Tobiki outwit the "superior" American forces.
There is a reason why this is a Pulitzer Prize winning play. Oftentimes, plays try to be self-righteous or over-the-top outrageous just to get our attention. However, "Teahouse" has that rare combination of social and political commentary mixed with realism and humor in perfect balance. Imagine that, a powerful play with no foul language, nudity, crude sexual innuendo, or weird storyline! Unfortunately, that is a rare thing in the shock culture of today.
Even though this play is over 50 years old, the combination of excellent writing and thoughtful direction give "Teahouse" a fresh and modern feel. For example, the director's clever use of multimedia to compliment various scenes and the playwright's mention of organic farming all add to its up to date impression. This play also dispels the Western myth of Geisha girls equaling prostitutes, which I'm sure many Westerners still believe.
Although the play had a current up to date feel due to the writing and direction, it still presented important traditional Japanese cultural elements such as the authentic Japanese dance scene by Lotus Blossom played by Ms. Kaz Matamura.
Another authentic touch was the use of Japanese dialogue which was absent in the production I saw previously since the director didn't have the luxury of Japanese speaking actors. Of course this production had real Asian actors playing the Japanese roles. Can you imagine, Asian actors playing Asian roles? Heck, sometimes that doesn't even happen in movies nowadays!
I'm not one to get choked up at plays as they are inherently artificial, but the combination of excellent dialogue, story, acting, and direction melded into an outstanding emotional performance. Contrary to what I thought, the small scale of the theatre added to the performance. How many times have we been to huge theatres and the performer's face is the size of a pea or smaller? It's difficult to get emotionally involved with the characters and the story. That's not an issue at the Secret Rose Theatre though, as being physically closer to the actors and the stage definitely added to the production's emotional impact. But this was only possible with excellent direction by Mike Rademaekers and superior acting.
The performances of the two main characters, Sakini and Captain Fisby, played by Keisuke Hoashi and Craig Woolson respectively are outstanding. Woolson reminds me of a young Jack Lemmon with his genuine sincerity and expressive body language and delivery. This play is classified as a light comedy but it has many very dramatic moments. The signs of good acting are not necessarily the loud moments, or the spewing out of complicated dialogue. The real art is knowing when to let the emotions take over with those few but powerful moments of silence. Both Woolson and Hoashi are well trained actors who know when to let that moment happen and that is the magic of live theatre to which no number of movie crashes, explosions or gunshots can compare.
Go and see "Teahouse of the August Moon" and you'll experience the best of what live theatre can be.