American Conservatory Theatre production of Philip Kan Gotanda's Yohen is Lightweight Drama
The American Conservatory Theatre is presenting the Bay Area premiere of Philip Kan Gotanda's Yohen at the Zeum Theatre as part of their new play series. The 85 minute no intermission play needs expansion, since there is a gem of a drama in this short production. The work premiered in 1999 at the David Henry Hwang Theatre in Los Angeles as a co-production of the East West Players and the Robey Theatre Company. It featured Danny Glover and Nobu McCarthy.
Yohen is a pottery term. In Japanese, kiln changes are called yohen and the results are as complex and unpredictable as the evolution of a marriage. In the end, it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not the creation has been made more beautiful by the imperfection.
Yohen examines an interracial marriage of 30 years between Japanese wife Sumi (Dian Kobayashi) and African American ex-GI James (ACT's core member Steven Anthony Jones) in Southern California. This has been a childless marriage since Sumi cannot bear children. In order to come to terms with the years of miscommunication and disappointment that have driven Sumi from her husband, she bans James from their house, forcing him to "start from the beginning" and reignite their courtship by visiting her as if it were a first date. This gives each spouse the insight to confront the other about the dysfunction of their relationship.
Steven Anthony Jones creates James as an uneducated man who still bears the emotional scars of having been a career soldier who has served in low level positions for most of his life. His only assets were his skills in boxing, which almost carried him to the Olympics. Veteran Asian actress Dian Kobayashi is excellent as the aristocratic Sumi. She wants to surface from being an "American wife," which she finds oppressive since she came from a long line of Japanese nobility. She shouts at the hulking James, "When are you going to grow up? Everything you do bugs the hell out of me." The conversation becomes very intense toward the end of the one act play when the couple confronts each other over why they have remained childless during their marriage.
Playwright Phillip Kan Gotanda's script does not seem believable to me. One wonders why this husband and wife are finally confronting each other after 30 years of marriage. He has retired from the army and is hanging around the house doing nothing. The wife wants him out of the house, so the only thing he knows to do is teach boxing to young boys at a local hall. However, the wife disapproves of this. The playwright decides to throw the racial and class business in strictly as an afterthought.
Direction by Seret Scott, an associate artist of The Old Globe, is insightful and the pace is kept at a rapid velocity. David Ledsinger's set design creates an effective living room and kitchen.
Yohen plays thru September 27 at the Zeum Theatre in Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Howard Street , San Francisco. Tickets are available at their box office number 415-749-2228 or by visiting www.act-sf.org.
The next production at the Zeum is Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night Dream, directed by Giles Havergal. It opens on October 9th.