AN OLD INJUSTICE REMEMBERED
An previous man steps onstage alone: upright, soldierly in khaki as a former US struggle hero who’s, he says resignedly, “introduced out yearly on the Pearl Harbour anniversary” . George Takei, 85 years previous, is probably the most beguiling of figures nowadays (even for those who aren’t a Trekkie who misses Mr Sulu on the dashboard or a follower of his liberal campaigns and frank remarks how no one appreciated William Shatner) . And this, recent off Broadway, is a severe, private Takei telling the story of an amazing injustice finished to fellow countrymen of his race.
At 5 years previous, after a sunny and affluent Californian infancy, he discovered himself sleeping on horse-scented straw alongside his bewildered household at a racecourse secure in Arkansas, unexpectedly tailored into an tough camp. Japanese-Individuals misplaced companies, land and houses in political hysteria after Pearl Harbour: abruptly categorised as enemy aliens they had been cleared off the west coast and interned, in squalid circumstances and below armed guard between 1941 and 1945. It took till the 80s for the Civil Liberties Act to supply correct reparations, apology and admission of its racist absurdity. In any case, as one character says, “we’re at struggle with Italy and no one’s placing Joe di Maggio in a camp”.
Takei has lengthy spoken about this era, and is on the coronary heart of this musical by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. Because the previous soldier, Sam, he book-ends a reminiscence play during which Sam’s younger self – performed with fierce endearing power by Telly Leung – is passionately patriotic and desires to enlist, save American values from Germany and the distant Empire of Japan. Within the household Takei performs the grandfather, insisting on constructing a backyard within the grim dustbowl to which they’re condemned . Briefly we see them first as a contented group in California, filled with immigrant ambition and power. Sam’s Dad (Masahi Fujimoto) is urging him in the direction of legislation college, his large sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer, a lovely singer) ever anxiously maternal. She turns into the one most urgently attempting after the arrest to make all the things all proper for the prolonged household of their undeserved humiliation. Overhead looms the determine of Mike Masaoka in Washington, pleading the loyalty of his fellow Japanese-heritage Individuals: he’s each an advocate and, as time goes bitterly on, seen as a traitor who grasp them out to dry.
We sit in ranks both aspect of the central camp (neat, evocative design by Mayou Trikerioti) and watch them being hectored by guards, their dignity ignored, issued with the infamous “loyalty questionnaires” demanding excessive patriotic affirmations. Papers which some, fairly magnificently, make into origami flowers. However younger Sam nonetheless loves America, enlists whilst his father rips up his insulting questionnaire. He turns into a reckless struggle hero, America’s token “good Jap”, and the rift within the group widens as his pal and eventual brother-in-law Frankie within the camp leads a insurrection burning draft playing cards.
The ebook is, as Broadway requires, a rom-com at instances: Sam falls for the camp nurse (a stunning, endearing efficiency by Megan Gardiner) and Frankie the insurgent loves Kei. However the true engine of the plot and its greatest moments, is the ideology and division of loyalties which drag the household aside, via hardship and a tragic loss, all the best way to the embittered determine performed by Takei initially.
The numbers are primarily generic Broadway, although rise splendidly when with excessive flute sounds they draw most intently on Japanese music. And certainly phrases: just like the pressing “Gaman” which means “stick with it, preserve going” and the mournful Ishi Kara Ishi about transferring a mountain stone by stone . There are understated however very Japanese moments: the previous man hanging a wind-chime, Grandfather Takei’s meditative gardening, and his respectful bow to his middle-aged rebellious son who’s being led away in handcuffs.
It drew me in ever extra, particularly within the harsher second act because the struggle takes its toll with two actual coups-de-theatre: the huddle of helmets and photographs as Sam’s Japanese regiment faces a sacrificial raid, and the information of Hiroshima: the ensemble stilled with horror and the “mild of a thousand suns” blinds us in flip earlier than abruptly a mic-waving DJ leads a Victory Swing. Nothing is alleged in regards to the Japanese-Individuals’ feeling about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however it doesn’t have to be. The shock is actual. And because the fog of struggle clears, Sam is again and finds out how a lot he has misplaced , and the way bitter is one seeming betrayal.
Good musicals can face robust bleak tales and irredeemable losses, nevertheless vital the upbeat ultimate second and triumphant curtain-call. And this can be a good one. Not good, not maybe among the many musical greats, however a bit of storytelling and efficiency which holds you quick. And there’s shivering energy in watching how a lot it means to previous Takei to inform it.
Field workplace charingcrosstheatre.co.uk To eight April