By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
San Francisco, 1948. Location, a three-story boarding house in The City’s Fillmore District. A gathering of mis-matched citizenry woo and screw each other as City Commissioners red-tag the dwelling for demolition.
Mr. Goto (Sab Shimono) chastises Chet – AFTER THE WAR (Hiro Kanagawa)
Written by Philip Kan Gotanda, After the War centers around Chester Monkawa (Hiro Kanagawa). Son of the original owners and native to The City, Chet has returned from an internment camp. He brings shame to the Japanese community. He is ostracized and scorned for his political stance against the war. He is labeled as a “No-No Boy”. No – he will not sign the Loyalty Oath. Loyalty to what? To his Federal Government that has uprooted his family, seized their assets – including the family home – and then forced them into a prison camp? No – he will not be drafted into the Armed Forces and die to defend such a government of such a people. His brother, however, did. He was killed in action and, thus, is labeled “A Hero”.
Hiro Kanagawa, Steven Anthony Jones, Harriet D. Foy, Sala Iwamatsu – AFTER THE WAR
The brother’s widow, Lillian (Sala Iwamatsu), has come to live and work there. Years before, she heard Chester play trumpet in a jazz band and was charmed by his unusual talents. She remains captivated, though Chester stopped blowing a long time ago. One of her responsibilities at the boarding house is to collect the rent.
Lillian soon learns that Chester has developed particular licks for the wannabe Hollywood Blonde upstairs, Mary-Louise (Carrie Paff), who works as a (“Ten Cents A Dance”) taxi dancer when she’s not working it a little harder with Earl, (Steven Anthony Jones), the (“shiny”) Black handyman and fellow-tenant – who throws in a few pork chops for her brother Benji (Ted Welch) – and whose own blooming teen-age daughter and sister-in-law Leona (Harriet D. Foy) share quarters nearby.
HIRO KANAGAWA (Chet) CARRIE PAFF (Mary-Louise), and DELIA MacDOUGALL (Olga) and FRANCIS JUE (Mr. Oji) – AFTER THE WAR
More dirty little secrets! In another room, Olga (Delia MacDougall), a plump Russian Jew, has a few odd tricks of her own – including Mr. Goto (Sab Shimono). Seems Olga is simultaneously burning calories learning how to swing dance from the floozy blonde upstairs while chippying-off a Family debt with the smarmy Goto who also holds the financial reins on the boarding house. Meanwhile, another tenant, the self-described “anally-retentive and boring” unemployed accountant Mr. Oji (Francis Jue) not only speaks everyone’s native tongue, but is himself a snobbish food whore. Oji offers a gift of mochi* Lillian and then encourages unfastening the ribbons so he can indulge in his most favorite of the succulents, the “green ones”. At the House Party to inaugurate the new TV, Oji makes it known that he prefers the mochi from Sacramento. Here on this Fillmore Lot – the prejudices, the stereotypes, the borders of race and religion, recipes and politics are all too familiar under this one roof with its many ceilings … on this side of the streetcar line on Fillmore. And on any one of MUNI’s current boarding platforms and corner stops.
HIRO KANAGAWA (Chet) and SALA IWAMATSU (Lillian) – After the War
This premier production of After the War has much to commend it, including the costumes of designer Lydia Tanji and the engaging lighting of James F. Ingalls and Nancy Schertler. The set by Donald Eastman will look familiar to most San Francisco residents. It attempts to capture the exterior look and interior feel of many of The City’s taller and hastily constructed post-earthquake/single-family dwellings – many since destroyed, some carved and bolstered into present day multiple units. The mammoth structure is set upon a revolving platform and turns with each separate episode – of which there are too many. Hence, the incidental filler music of composer Anthony Brown – these many measures for 90-degree turns, more for 270-degrees, etc. Unfortunately, the tunes do not quite drown out the familiar earthquake-like knell of the structure’s disturbing creaks and groans.
Playwright Philip Kan Gotanda has opened the gates to stories of San Francisco that need to be told. He is very fortunate to have this particular cast presenting this one.
After the War plays at the American Conservatory through April 22nd.
To purchase tickets on-line: After the War
Read Seán’s recent commentaries:
* Ask Seán for his recipe: Coconut Mochi Cake
San Francisco Sentinel’s Fine Arts Critic Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Ask him a question on AllExperts.com . If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.