Reviewed by Neal Weaver
David Henry Hwang Theater
Through November 19
The title of Philip Kan Gotanda’s play, Yohen, refers to the unpredictable changes that take place when pottery is placed in the kiln. The result may be disastrous, or it may create an unexpected treasure. His play refers to the disruptive changes which occur in a human relationship over the course of years.
James (Danny Glover) and Sumi (June Angela) are an interracial couple who have been married 37 years. She suddenly and without warning wants to bring about changes to their situation. It seems initially the kind of bumpy patch that might occur in any marriage. James is at a loss to understand the disconcerting chasm that appears between them. But the changes are the result of long-simmering conflicts and differences.
He was an African American GI stationed in Japan, while she was the daughter of a proud Japanese family that had been stationed in Manchuria during World War II. Each family had a fierce pride, which the other did not understand. Some of their contretemps are funny: Sumi and James’s father couldn’t stop bowing to one another. His Southern courtesy demanded that he respond to her courteous gesture, while her Japanese tradition required that she must bow last in respect for her father-in-law.
Other differences are not so easy to surmount. She aspires to a life of elegance and restraint, and devotes herself to self-improvement and studying the art of Japanese pottery making. He wants to drink beer, watch television, and coach young would-be boxers at a local club — boys she considers thugs who don’t come from “good families.” The two love each other and want their relationship to continue, but mounting revelations continue to drive them apart. Their problems are not amenable to easy solutions or perhaps to any solutions at all. They can only muddle through as best they can.
Gotanda’s script is perceptive and thoughtful, always fascinating to watch, and develops an eloquent intensity — but he has taken on so many issues involving race, nationality life style and personal choice that we sometimes get lost in the proliferating conflicts. Director Ben Guillory has cast the piece beautifully and directed it with sensitivity, and the two actors provide memorable performances. Glover nimbly captures the perplexity and frustration of a man whose wife suddenly begins making strange demands on him, just when he thought he could finally retire and take things easy. And Angela paints a memorable portrait of the iron will that lurks beneath the feminine deference of a traditional Japanese woman.
Christopher Scott Murillo designed the elegantly handsome set, and Naila Aladdin Sanders created the consistently appropriate costumes.
The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players at the David Henry Wang Theatre, 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. (213) 625-7000 or www.eastwestplayers.org. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.