By Virgil Dickson
“God bless America, My home sweet home.”
These lines were sung by an Asian-American actress named Kate Garassino, who portrays a Japanese military wife, at the beginning of Tea. Written by Velina Hasu Houston, Tea is currently playing at the Loop Theater until Feb. 29. The play is based in the living room of Himiko, a character who commits suicide at the beginning with a handgun. The house is located in the heart of America, in Junction, Kan., a town with deep roots and an army base. Tea takes on many subjects including racism, interracial marriage, the afterlife and reincarnation.
Erika Winters gives an outstanding performance as Chizuye. Shortly after coming to America, her Mexican husband dies. She is forced to adjust to this new life as a single mother and widow. Facing these obstacles, she overcomes the language barrier and embraces American culture. She loses her Japanese accent and buries some Japanese traditions that were instilled in her as a child. Out of all five of the female characters within the play, her character is the one who adjusts best to American life. She wears a pair of psychedelic colored pants and a sweater throughout the production while the
rest of the characters wear dresses.
Stephanie Santos gives a stirring performance as Himiko, who is a soul trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. Himiko spends most of the play attempting to reach her former friends as they clean her house after her death. She want to tell them not to suppress who they are in favor of adapting to American culture. She wants to remind them of the importance of family and the power of doing things on your own, without the anchor of a man. Through a flashback, it is revealed that her husband was physically abusive and an adulterer. These pressures build up to the point were she kills him in self-defense. Then, as an act of rebellion, her daughter runs away and begins to hitchhike. Eventually one of the people that picked her up raped and stabbed her. This is when life became too much for Himiko.
The more poignant scenes are when the women take on the roles of their husbands and children. The scenes that also carry a lot of dramatic weight are the ones where they flashback to their respective courtships and shows them coming to the United States. Each of the women married men from different backgrounds. Setsuko married an African-American, Chizuye married a Mexican and Atskuo married an Asian American whose family was trapped in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The other two women married white men.
Some of the characters’ stories aren’t as strongly developed as the others. For Mary Delacruz’s character Setsuko, we never get a true understanding of the seriousness of her marrying an African-American. Not only did she have to deal with prejudice because the character was Japanese, but also because her husband was an African-American. Most of this play takes place in the late ‘60s when racism was common, but was only hinted at here. Setsuko is reduced to little more than just the nice character who invites every one to tea, which is surprising considering this character is loosely based on the playwright’s own mother.
Tea is overall a great production. The play tells the story of five women adjusting to American life in the Midwest. The play gives us an intimate look at Japanese customs, marrying outside one’s race and the social backlash that comes from doing so. The play has a very strong mystical undertone as a lot of the production is done within the presence of the ghost of Himiko. She only interacts with the four other women on stage through flashbacks and scenes where the actors take on the roles of their respective husbands and daughters. Overall, this play is a must-see.