In reviewing the Asian Theater Production “The Wash,” a few things must be taken into consideration. This is the first theater performance for many of the actors involved. The play does not have a gigantic set, and it was performed in a dance studio, not a theater.
None of this, though, precludes ATP from delivering a good performance. As the organization showed this weekend, it still deliver an excellent performance despite the aforementioned obstacles. While the play was not executed perfectly, it proved, for the most part, to be entertaining and illuminating.
Written by Phillip Kan Gotanda and directed by Claire Shin ’99, the play tells the story of a Japanese family living in Stockton, California during the mid-1980s. A number of issues related to marriage and family are explored in the play, which revolves around the lives of Nobu (Andy Chang ’00) and Masi (Debbie Hsu ’00) Matsumoto, now separated, and the difficulties the couple faces in finding love afterward. Each seems to have met someone new: Nobu’s love interest is Kiyoko Hasegawa (Susie Yeo ’02) and Masi’s is Sadao Takenaga (Fumi Tosu ’01). Added to the mix are the couple’s two children, Marsha Matsumoto (Grace Kim ’02) and Judy Adams (Peggy Nam ’01), who is separated from her father Nobu because she married a black man. The other two characters in the play are the chef at Kiyoko’s restaurant, Curley Sakata (Will Chang ’99), and Kiyoko’s friend Chiyo Froelich (Janet Iwasa ’99).
The play moved fairly rapidly, though at a pace that can be followed easily. The set, consisting of two small apartment living rooms and a small restaurant, was ample, with lighting changes making the transition from one setting to another easy to see.
With a cast that is not overly experienced, one cannot expect the performances to go down perfectly. The acting did have its flaws, most notably the fact that some of the characters drifted in and out of Japanese accents. Also, some of the more affectionate scenes seemed to be forced, especially one in which Sadao and Masi snuggle up in front of the TV. There were also many parts of the play where the characters hesitated before saying their lines.
Flaws aside, though, strong performances were ultimately delivered by all of the actors, especially Andy Chang and Hsu. Despite playing Nobu with a consistently heavy Japanese accent, Chang was understandable throughout the play. He was able to effectively illustrate the irritable but honest nature of Nobu. The highlight of his acting came when Masi denied his request for the couple to get back together towards the end of the play. Chang played the scene perfectly, expressing emotion the way expected from the simple-minded Nobu without overdoing it.
Chang really captured the essence of Nobu. He played the easily agitated old man throughout the play, yet he also managed to create an air of innocence around Nobu. This was especially evident in a scenes in which Nobu scolds Masi for not remembering something that happened 40 years before when the two were in an internment camp. Hsu was also spectacular in her portrayal of Masi. In all of her scenes, she gave off a poignant sense of gentility.
Nam and Kim each had good exchanges in the scenes with Chang and Hsu. Nam, as Judy, had a noticeable strain in her voice and demeanor throughout the play, coming as a result of her separation from her father. This was most noticeable in the middle of the play when she tried to begin a relationship with him once again. Kim also displayed frustration over her parents getting separated in her portrayal of Marsha. Marsha desperately wants her parents to get back together, and plays off the sentiment in her interactions with Nobu.
As Nobu’s love interest Kiyoko, Yeo had a relatively minor role. She effectively communicated both her passion for Nobu, as well as her subsequent frustration when he decides to end their relationship.
Tosu worked well at times with Sadao. He was lighthearted throughout the play and kept people entertained. However, he wasn’t completely effective at playing the older man. From the way he carried himself, it seemed as though Sadao was much younger than the 65-year old widower he was supposed to be.
Iwasa was also lighthearted as she played Chiyo. At times, she seemed a bit too exuberant and melodramatic, especially in her speech. Will Chang was very humorous as the overweight chef Curley, though he drifted in and out of the Japanese accent from time to time.
Overall, the performance was well delivered. It was by no means flawless, but it was still a hughlty entertaining and provocative piece of theater.