Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

After the War is an Interesting Nostalgic Drama of Japantown in 1948

Also see Richard's reviews of Chemical Imbalance, Bingo and Private Lives

Hiro Kanagawa and Carrie Paff
American Conservatory Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Philip Kan Gotanda's reflective drama, After the War, at their Geary Street theatre through April 22nd. Carey Perloff directs this haunting drama about San Francisco after World War II when Japanese Americans who were in internment camps returned to find many African Americans had moved into their neighborhoods.

After the War reminds me of an early August Wilson play, with its schematic style containing many subplots going on in a boarding house owned by an elderly wealthy Japanese wheeler-dealer, Mr. Goto (Sab Shimono). He has a Russian Jewish immigrant "comfort woman," Olga (Delia Macdougall), working in the boarding house. Chet Monkawa (Hiro Kanagawa) is a second-generation Japanese American and a gifted musician who just has returned from an internment camp near the Oregon border. Before the war, he was considered an up and coming jazz trumpeter in the Chicago jazz scene. The young man was branded a 'no-no boy' for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to America while in the internment camp and be drafted.

Chet is ostracized from the Japanese community for being a coward since his brother joined the 100th Infantry Battalion and was killed in one of the major battles in Europe (a total of 33,000 Niseis were drafted or enlisted in this division to fight in the European Theatre, and the unit suffered 9,486 casualties). Chet finds himself having to resolve his guilt for his fallen brother.

The Victorian boarding house houses African Americans as well as Japanese. Earl (Steven Anthony Jones), a dock worker and former musical cohort of Chet, is having a sensual relationship with Mary-Louise (Carrie Paff) from Oklahoma. He does not know that Mary Louise, who is now a "taxi dancer," was Chet's lover in Chicago. In this time period, the interracial relationship is illegal, even in liberal San Francisco. Earl's sister-in-law Leona (Harriett D. Foy), just up from Mississippi, still considers the Japanese to be the enemy and makes no bones about it when talking to Lillian Okamura (Sala Iwamatsu), the fiancée of Chet's recently deceased brother. Also in the house is Mr. Oji (Francis Jue), who believes he is too ugly to attract a woman, although he secretly falls in love with the Russian Olga.

American Conservatory Theatre and director Carey Perloff have undertaken an ambitious production. The set design by Donald Eastman of a two-story Victorian house on a large turntable is one of the most fantastic sets I have seen in many years. It is perfection, with a front stoop, entryway, parlor and long and straight wooden staircase in the rear. This is a massive construction that revolves at least 35 times throughout the production to reveal various scenes.

After the War's cast members give excellent performances. Hiro Kanagawa (Canadian actor, playwright and screenwriter) gives a great performance as Chet. Carrie Paff (Small Tragedy, Betrayal at the Aurora Theatre) is brilliant as the taxi dancer Mary Louise. She had the right "Okie" accent for the part.

Steven Anthony Jones (ACT core member) gives a superlative performance as Earl, and Harriett D. Foy (Broadway's Mamma Mia! and Once on This Island) is forceful as Leona. Francis Jue (Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie, M. Butterfly, Pacific Overtures) gives an outstanding performance as the nerdy, apprehensive but importunate suitor Mr. Oji. Sab Shimono (Happy End, original cast of Pacific Overtures) gives a strong performance as the haughty Mr. Goto.

Delia MacDougall (The Learned Ladies, As You Like It) is affably intense as the Russian Jewish Immigrant Olga. Sala Iwamatsu (Broadway's Avenue Q, Miss Saigon) gives an impressive performance as Lillian, and Ted Welch (Games People Play in New York) gives a winning performance as the mentally challenged brother of Mary-Louise.

Lydia Tanji's costumes are perfect period pieces of the late 1940s. Lighting by James F. Ingalls and Nancy Schertler is just right while sound by Jake Rodriquez and music by Anthony Brown give the audience the Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey sound throughout the production.

After the War plays at the American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary St, San Francisco through April 22nd. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit The company's next play is the West Coast premiere of David Harrower's Oliver Award winner, Blackbird.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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