Yohen
/ by R. Sheth

September 28, 2008
By Megan Powell

Like the art of pottery making, Yohen rewards patience. Gotanda’s unpretentious play is, in fact, somewhat structured like that ancient practice, delicately shaping the uncertain future of a 37-year interracial marriage in four detailed, fluent scenes. Sumi, who met African-American James when he was a GI in her native Japan after the war and then married him and moved to the States, now—in 1986—has asked him to move out so that they can start over again by dating.

Determined to change their lives, Sumi quits her longtime secretarial job and enrolls in university courses in pottery making; she insists that James’s postretirement existence of beer drinking and ESPN watching must change, too. Arguments are rarely about what’s actually being argued; while by the third of James’s visits it’s clear that the changes each partner is making may not be mutually beneficial, the couple’s real issues are not addressed (which can make for a tedious listen). Implausibly, the two have never brought out the big guns—the repercussions of their interracial relationship and childlessness—for more than 30 years.

The play’s title refers to a pot that has been discolored or misshapen during the final step in its crafting, the kiln firing. The metaphor is more compelling than heavy-handed—particularly when, finally, the couple’s long-hardening problems are fired. There’s no easy answers in relationships undergoing change, and Yohen’s peeping-through-the-blinds view of this one, created by Hamada and Perry’s full investment in their characters, is ultimately both devastatingly truthful and naturally etched.