By Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
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“Tea is not quiet.
So fine you can’t see them.
So dense it seems to be standing still.
We Japanese women drink a lot of it.”
Where there’s tea, there’s hope in playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s story about five Japanese war brides living in Kansas with their GI husbands in the 1960s. A group of like women with no real “community”, Himiko Hamilton, Teruko MacKenzie, Atsuko Yamamoto, Setsuko Banks, and Chizuye Juarez are disconnected from each other and also from themselves. They have had to accept and somehow make the best of their half-life existence as immigrants in an America that never truly accepts them. But when they arrive to clean up the aftermath of Himiko’s suicide, they finally begin to share the stories of how they all got here.
Rebecca Wear directs Hasu’s deeply soulful tale of five Japanese women and the unfulfilling realities of prejudice, loneliness, and isolation of their post-World War II Kansas lives. Like Himiko’s spirit which is now walking restlessly between the living and the afterlife, they themselves are walking in the gray space, silent, unrecognized, and wondering what and who they have become.
Himiko’s death is as unsettled as her life, married to an abusive husband. She wanders in and out of the gathering, reliving memories of her troubled childhood, violent marriage, and beautiful daughter – her one light in a world of otherwise, darkness.
Himiko cannot yet make the journey to the other side and so she watches her friends struggle and occasionally helps them through the custom of drinking tea. In life, she was rarely included. But now, they all realize that they must strive to come together in order to rediscover themselves. And it is the act of having tea that will finally “bring them home.”
One by one as each woman chooses her tea, they sit, talk, clean, fight, and reconcile. It’s as if they are finally waking up. Words are spoken that have not been spoken before. Each woman faces her own truth and discovers her own strength.
Prescient as the subject of immigration is, TEA at its best, is an illumination of human complexity that cannot be described or lived, or felt in one way or on one note. No two journeys are alike. And yet, hope and pain, and joy can all be shared.
TEA is, of course, specific to the Japanese experience; the story having been created through the real life of the playwright’s mother. Everything about this play is untainted by the Caucasian perspective. And in being so, it offers a specific cultural clarity so rarely afforded audiences of similar and dissimilar ethnic backgrounds.
The play itself, like its characters, walks the gray center line of being highly emotional and completely soothing. It is extraordinarily beautiful in its quietude with the ensemble work of the cast delicately balanced in what seems like an intentional precarity.
TEA is sweet and painful. And after more than 30 years of being produced for stage, its subject matter retains its empathetic power.
Written by Velina Hasu Houston
Directed by Rebecca WearFeaturing two all Asian female ensembles: Elaine Ackles, Olivia Cordell, Hiroko Imai, Tomoko Karina, Hua Lee, and Yukari Black, Alix Yumi Cho, Ariel Kayoko Labasan, Sayaka Miyatani, Bolor Saruul
Produced by Gabe Figueroa
Presented by Hero Theatre, Elisa Bocanegra artistic director
Previews: April 21 and April 22
Performances: April 23 – May 15
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: April 21 (Preview), April 28, May 5, May 12
Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 22 (Preview), April 29, May 6, May 13
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 23 (Opening Night), April 30, May 7, May 14
Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 24, May 1, May 8, May 15
Sundays at 7 p.m.: May 1, May 8, May 15 (dark April 24)
Hero Theatre, company-in-residence at the
720 Kohler Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
All performances except previews: $35
(323) 206-6415 or www.herotheatre.org
Photo (above) by Jenny Graham: Hiroko Imai, Tomoko Karina,
Hua Lee and Olivia Cordell