September 29, 2008
By Ruth Smerling
For its tenth show, the Silk Road Theatre Project has collaborated with the Goodman Theatre to present Philip Kan Gotanda’s beautiful and powerful love story, "Yohen," directed by the acclaimed and charming Steve Scott. "Yohen" follows two people unlikely to meet yet who seem destined to be together. Cheryl Hamada is Sumi, a Japanese woman who meets James, played by Ernest Perry, Jr., an American soldier, during World War II. Despite their cultural differences, there is no doubt that they are soulmates who fall deeply in love. Their love is so pure, innocent and strong that none of the hysteria and racism they generate both in Japan with Sumi’s family or in America has any meaning. They are at peace with themselves and happy together, as if they had fulfilled their respective destinies.
Young love and idealism is soon dashed as James shows a side of himself Sumi cannot ignore. He drinks a lot and has a very bad temper. He’s self-conscious and unpredictable and Sumi must break up with him. They separate and James moves in with a friend he’s known all his life who has his own marital difficulties. James sees Sumi frequently, but as soon as he asks if she has any beer, the party is over. She steels herself against her baser instincts and remains alone. In the time they spend apart, Sumi has taken up the art of Yohen, Japanese pottery making. The longer the time spans they are apart, the more creative her work becomes. The manufacture of the detailed and intricate pots is how she vents her loneliness. The Yohen becomes a link between them. She cannot stop loving James but she cannot live with him. The Yohen helps to still the crying emptiness she suffers.
Director Steve Scott says that he knows a play will work for an audience “when I react to it emotionally.” "Yohen" is filled with emotion, love and the balance between need and rational thinking. The only problem with Cheryl Hamada and Ernest Perry Jr. is believing that they are of the stated ages of the character. James is 61 and Sumi is 64. Perry looks too young and athletic and beautiful Cheryl Hamada just does not look anywhere near 64.
Despite that, the relationship they create is strong. Sumi, despite her need and deep affection for James never lets herself forget that he has weaknesses that are harmful. James keeps the light on for Sumi but cannot overcome his addictions.
3 STARS out of 4