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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the January 16, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Waiting for Tadashi’
Grand intentions, brilliant production values, and
a prosaic script that never transcends the playwright’s
imperative, make "Waiting for Tadashi" a play you would like
to see succeed, but which does not.
Velina Hasu Houston’s family saga, now receiving its world premiere
production at George Street Playhouse, encompasses a history and
that will be unfamiliar to many. It chronicles 50 years in the life
of Tadashi, a child born of a Japanese woman and an African-American
serviceman during the years of occupation after World War II.
Playwright Houston describes her intention to bring together elements
of traditional Noh theater, Japanese Kabuki (both forms unfamiliar
to this critic), Western drama, and magic realism. And visually, she
succeeds. Yet in dramatic terms, her script tells, but rarely shows,
the contours of Tadashi’s story. Director David Saint’s choice to
present the actors as if in some archaic theater form, results in
an unaffecting hybrid.
Told as if "through the prism of memory," the play’s setting
is a triangular kaleidoscope of polished mirrors, framed in red, and
flanked by stylized paintings of a pagoda and a stand of pine trees.
Within this reflective world, wondrous sights unfold: we see a
Japanese goddess who walks on the earth, a supernatural demon who
thwarts Tadashi’s every hope, a bright, brilliant scene of falling
snow, and a fearful fire.
The play’s ritualistic opening is truly riveting. Within the stage
kaleidoscope we see the perfect form of a doll-like woman, with black
hair to her waist, who wears a lilac silk kimono embroidered with
weeping willows. Gracefully, with slow, swaying movements, she emerges
from the triangular frame onto the circular, wooden stage. This is
the supernatural Shape Shifter Dazzler, played by June Angela.
stand out, a crimson pomegranate amid a world of green leaves,"
she says, as she deposits a wrapped bundle on the ground which we
take to be a baby.
Thus we are introduced to Tadashi Lane, an Afro-Amerasian man of 50
who is still trying to come to terms with his racial, national, and
Contrasted with the upright form and quiet grace of
the goddess is the brutish, almost spherical form of a supernatural
demon, a red bubble of energy in white mask with vermilion tufted
hair. Shape Shifter Confuser, played by the masked Sue Jin Song, is
Tadashi’s nemesis. Where the first woman saw hope for the baby she
calls "a hybrid thing so rare," the Confuser calls him "a
half-American mongrel." Unrelentingly vicious, she abuses the
helpless boy in an escalating sequence of violent episodes.
As Tadashi, Clark Jackson makes a valiant effort with a role that
demands that he portray either a man of 50 (significantly older than
the actor) or a boy of seven. His is a character who wakes up
from nightmare after nightmare, walks on his knees, and asks virtually
every woman he meets, "Do you love me?" For the most part,
Jackson plays his role like the empty-headed puppet of his orphanage
days when he was coerced into believing "I’m nothing, I’m
It comes as a shock to learn, at the play’s conclusion, that Tadashi
is a competent man with a profession and a job.
As directed by Saint, I was unable to connect with the actors’ stiff
delivery of Houston’s expository text. Sabrina Le Beauf as Chikako,
the playwright’s alter-ego, and Mia Tagano as the elder sister, stand
rooted to the spot, elbows held close to the body, as they share their
Only Takayo Fischer as Satomi, Tadashi’s Japanese-born adoptive
plays her role with enough verve and dramatic timing to move the
Speaking with a heavy Japanese accent, Fischer is believable at all
points in the story’s 50-year span. And with her impeccable sense
of timing, she succeeds in rousing the audience to laughter with the
sparest of lines. Danny Johnson, as her husband and Tadashi’s adoptive
father, is the only other actor who truly inhabits his role.
The historical underpinnings of Houston’s play — the shocking
story of the discarded offspring of American servicemen — were
unfamiliar to me, as they will be to many. And as we learn from two
tiny black-and-white family snapshots in the theater’s lobby, the
story is based on the playwright’s own family history. We can see
her, her older sister, and her adopted brother (who becomes the
of the play’s title) as they were in the 1950s. So earnest is Houston
to report on history, she also introduces masked characters in black
robes to recite facts and figures on cultural attitudes, slum
and the death and abuse of Amerasian orphans.
Yet rarely does Houston’s language rise toward poetry. Most of it
takes the form of the most prosaic expository narration, even as the
story is littered with hateful and racist speech. This, Tadashi tells
his parents, is being directed toward him by others. (Was there ever
a child who has not been called hateful names?)
Accolades go to set designer James Youmans, costume designer Theoni
V. Aldredge, and lighting designer Joe Saint for their brilliant
and to choreographer Yass Hakoshima.
By the time of the play’s mother-son reconciliation, embellished with
a touching tale of a wristwatch that she has lovingly kept wound for
30 years, there’s no place for the actors to go dramatically. Family
members sit awkwardly on lovely silk pillows while, on opening night,
one of the actors, so moved by the events of which she is a part,
cried real tears.
"Thanks for the pop psychology," says Tadashi to his sister,
toward the end of the play, as the three adult siblings revisit the
topic of racial identity. Unfortunately, for the audience, it’s a
sentiment that rings only too true.
— Nicole Plett
Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. Performances continue
through February 3. $18 to $45.
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