Regional Reviews: Seattle
An old Japanese woman, Nadeshiko, discovers she has passed and is now a spirit. She guides us into a contemporary tale of Risa, a young, unemployed Japanese-American woman, recently unemployed, who pursues a doomed to failure new career as a sex worker. She has a really ill-advised session with an older Caucasian man into sexual fetishism and not only stiffs him her services, but also the $300 he paid her in advance. Her bolder cousin Sue is a more assured and accomplished sex worker, and as Risa enters a distinctly odd non-sexual relationship with the John she stiffed earlier, the cousins end up at odds when their familial ties don't jibe with their professional ones.
In act two there is a diverting subplot involving a youthful Nadeshiko and her bittersweet relationship in Japan with a dashing young Kamikaze pilot. This intriguing tale of these pilots and the girls who showed them comfort prior to their final flights is far more interesting than the main modern day story which gets far more stage time to lesser effect. There is little surprise in the reveal, late in act two, of how the women relate to each other. Green should consider reworking her tale more, and realize that the old spirit woman is the central character and deserves a broader berth in the storytelling.
As Risa, Maile Wong is saddled with an unlikable character, in that we never really understand her rasher actions or her "poor me" attitude. She is best in her interactions with the white-haired man, subtly underplayed by Greg Lyle Newton. Newton builds sympathy for his character, who ultimately seems to deserve what he has gone through with Risa. Mi Kang as Sue has some comic bite to her performance in another underwritten role, though she has some affecting moments as the young woman in Japan. Josh Kenji is handsome, strong and vibrant as the Kamikaze pilot. Finally, though, the heart and humor in the play are mostly unearthed by Ina Chang as the Old Spirit of Nadeshiko. The actress may be several decades too young for the role, but she has nailed the character, from physicality to speech patterns. Growing up in the chop-suey mixture of races that is Hawaii, I definitely have known old ladies much like her.
Catherine Cornell's spare yet effective set uses a lot of sliding screens a la Asian theatre. Richard Schaefer's lighting is appropriately nuanced, and Hannah Larson's costumes suit the diverse locales and time periods. When Green's play finds a better balance and defines its younger actresses' roles more clearly, I would be interested to see how it plays. Right now, it is at sixes and sevens with itself.
Nadeshiko from Sound Theatre Company runs through May 7, 2017, at The Center Theatre in the Seattle Center Armory. For tickets or information visit them online at www.soundtheatrecompany.org