Tea / by R. Sheth

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January 27, 2004
By Venus Zarris

The only thing more impressive than a new theater company’s inaugural production being a brilliant success, is them following it up with another gem. Back to back treasures means it’s no fluke. Silk Road Theatre Project, founded by Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani, is paving an excellent road of it’s own. And with just two full length productions under it’s belt, it is emerging as one of Chicago’s more compelling companies.

Tea, written by the award winning Velina Hasu Houston and elegantly directed by Lynn Ann Bernatowicz, is the heart wrenching story of five Japanese women who fall in love with and marry American soldiers shortly after World War 2. Their attempted assimilation into American culture is touching, at times funny and charming, and often tragic as they must abandon so much of life as they knew it for a country that never fully accepts them.

The play opens with the final decent into madness by Himiko, who kills herself after losing her daughter to a brutal crime and killing her abusive husband. "It took one shot right through the heart that I never knew he had." She tells us when explaining the self defense killing that freed her from his cruelty but left her all alone.

During one of her hallucinations she declares, "I wish I would have died in World War 2. It was an easier war than this one."

Out of respect for the dead the other "war brides", as they were labeled, come to her home to clean it and share tea together. This is something they have never done as a group before and something that Himiko would never have been never invited to do with them. Her ghost lingers while they exchange their stories of static painful integration into a land where they were not welcome after leaving a country that failed them and shamed them for their choices of love and self preservation.

The richness of the culture they left behind was dulled and forsaken by the one it was replaced with and the only things that ultimately hold them together are their shared experiences and the ritual of the ceremony and event that is sharing tea. It transforms into a vehicle for union, honor, and purification.

Speaking of tea one woman proclaims that it "improves my eyesight", while another adds, "and my insight." By the end of the story it improves everyone’s insight and the tea served by the cast in the lobby after the show is a brilliant shared communion as well as a delightful refreshment, especially before going back out into the cold!

The cast is strong and wonderful. Mary Ann De La Cruz and Erika Winters stand out as particularly impressive.

The costumes are beautiful, especially during the enchanting scene where they change into their lovely Kimonos. The lighting is clever and the set is a wonderful use of the intimate space provided by the Loop Theater.

There are so many aspects of Japan and the Japanese culture that I love and am drawn to, from the stylish to the childish. I love it’s art, design, landscapes, and history. I love it’s imagination, animation, and I am an avid fan of the giant monster movie genre. Ironically, my lover was even born in Japan on an Air Force Base. To look at something that you love and see how it has struggled is a sad gift that only adds to itÇs amazing textures and richness. This beautiful and poignant script filled with poetic narratives is such a gift as is this delicate, powerful, and intricate production.

3 1/2 STARS