September 28, 2008
By Tom Williams
The Silk Road theatre Project showcases playwrights of Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean backgrounds whose work address themes relevant to the peoples of the Silk Road. Their new season opens with Japanese-American playwright Philip Kan Gotanda’s “Yohen”. This moving play is a two-hander that explores the life of a Japanese woman who marries an African-American soldier.
We meet the couple in their Los Angles home just as Sumi (Cheryl Hamada) has asked her husband of 37 years to move out because she has grown ‘bored’ with him. James is a retired US Army enlisted man who now only sits home watching TV and drinking beer. Sumi still works full time as a legal secretary. This one act play aptly demonstrates how over the years—when hope and reams are compromised—a couple can grow apart. Sumi being Japanese and James being a black American only complicates their relationship.
Sumi wants James to court her once again like he did 37 years earlier. James is torn by all this but, as he still loves Sumi, he tries to change and follow her wishes. His age (61) and his stubbornness hinders his attempt to rekindle their love.
Sumi, now totally Americanized, wants to go back to her Japanese roots by learning the Japanese art of pottery and the artistic methods of traditional Japanese culture. She quits her job to be a fulltime college student at 65 years of age. Since she wants change in her life—she prods James to change by being more active. James decides to work with teens at a gym—he’ll teach boxing. Sumi and James slowly rehash their lives as they come to an understanding. “Yohen” is a poignant and truthful love story more about changing relationship over time. It is more than merely redefining the clash of cultures. These two finally come to grips with regrets over children they never had. They compromises over challenges of their culture differences. We see how the couple redefine their intimate relationships as times change once they acknowledge their age and their maturity.
I enjoyed this short play’s tender moments. The play is marvelously performed by Cheryl Hamada and Ernest Perry, Jr. This poetic piece uses the art of pottery as a symbol of the changing and redefining of love. The unexpected consequences of living with another for years can shake up what it means to love another. I especially relate to living your dreams now—before it is too late—that necessitates making changes in our pattern of living. Sumi and James give us hints on how to accomplish just that. “Yohen” has loads of heart.