September 29, 2008
By Venus Zarris
Silk Road Theatre Project delivers a beautifully realized Midwest premiere of playwright Philip Kan Gotanda’s Yohen. This story is presented as an intimate emotional rendering, aged and slightly discolored with time but vivid and filled with character.
Sumi and James met in Japan, fell in love and married shortly after WWII. The transition to the United States proved difficult as Sumi was faced with a lonely assimilation into a foreign culture and they were both faced with the discriminations set upon interracial couples. Now middle aged, their relationship is challenged with the tensions of stagnation and unresolved decades-old conflict.
Yohen is a broad Japanese ceramic term. For the sake of this story it translates to mean ‘changed by the fire’ as with pieces of pottery deformed or damaged while firing in a kiln. The piece is sometimes unintentionally transformed into something beautiful, based on personal aesthetics.
Sumi examines her latest Yohen ceramic creation and ponders, “Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes I like it. I just can’t tell if it is good or not.” And this ambivalent affection fluctuating to abhorrence proves to be the tangible metaphor for the state of her marriage.
Gotanda has crafted a script that tenderly and painfully depicts the endurance of annoyance and feelings of isolation within a relationship as well as the lasting love and affinity.
Cheryl Hamada (Sumi) and Ernest Perry Jr. (James) deliver engaging performances with compelling chemistry. You want them to mend their fences and find peace together for the sake of their love.
Director Steve Scott strikes an impressively even balance between the irritation, adoration and desperation of these characters. Lee Keenan creates splendid authenticity and subtle depth with his excellent set design and Robert Steel’s original composition and sound design is truly lovely and evocative.
Once again, Silk Road Theater Project crafts an impressive rendition of a uniquely American story that is seldom considered. Don’t miss this charmingly bittersweet personal portrait.
3 ½ STARS