Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Excerpt from Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire

Author David Mura contacted me over the break and gave me permission to post an excerpt to his moving and thoughtful book about a Sansei academic trying to solve the mystery of his father and his missing brother.  So much of his book spoke directly to me and expresses part of the reason why I wanted to adapt NO NO BOY, and why I think the book/play is important to anyone trying to understand how we got to where we are. 

This following passage is from the first few paragraphs of a chapter called ST. JUDE'S (page 118 of the paperback edition):

"I am the son of internees.  Two young people whom the government jailed because it believed that they might be spies for old Nippon.  Not quite Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, nothing as specific as that.  No, everyone in my parents' entire community was rounded up.  It was easier that way.  And most went along with the government, followed their orders to the letter, wanting to prove it was all a big mistake.  And some, at a certain point, did not go along.  Among these was my father.

"After all these years, this history seems no more real to me than nineteenth-century Polish politics or a list of the maharajahs of some Indian province.  A handful of obscure documents, a sidelight to the major, real events of history.  No one knows about it anymore; no one cares.  And what it all has to do with my father sinking afternoons into the dark folds of our living room couch, I still can't fathom.

"Perhaps, as the psychologists tend to view things these days, it was all chemical.  A few tabs of Zoloft or Prozac would have saved him; it would have all melted away.  And there'd be no past, no shame, no stigma from raising his hand in protest rather than bowing his head in patriotic obedience.  Perhaps politics had nothing to do with it all.  Perhaps it lay buried deep inside my father long before Pearl Harbor, before the war, before everything changed.  Merely biochemical fault lines, bad synapses, something in his genes.  Our genes."


Monday, December 21, 2009


I just finished David Mura's FAMOUS SUICIDES OF THE JAPANESE EMPIRE.  I have to read for a living, so it's rare these days that I read for pleasure...usually, on a sort of busman's holiday, I read while on vacation.  I picked up his book because it has a great cover, a Roger Shimomura painting that's as haunting and evocative as Mura's book, and the plot description on the back mentions that the protagonist's father was a No No Boy.  It's full, it's complicated, and I love his voice, but the main reason I mention it here (besides recommending that you read it) is that it's got some passages that capture how I feel about our shared history.  There's one in particular that I wanted to quote, but I tracked him down and asked his permission, so I suppose the decent thing to do is wait, even though I can't imagine he'd object to it.

I'm going to quote a much shorter passage here, and if he objects and says, "Who the hell are you and no, you can't quote me on your damn blog", I'll just take it down.  If, instead he says, "Sure, what the hell", well, you can get an idea of why I want to quote a much longer passage that speaks to why it is I think it is important for us all to keep looking for our various and shared past:

"Perhaps if I could have kept imbibing that special nisei elixir of forgetting, I wouldn't have felt so lost all these years; I wouldn't have needed to ride into my own Western sunset like this.  (...) So here I am, still trying to remember, to track down all that's eluded me.  Or that I have eluded." -- David Mura, FAMOUS SUICIDES OF THE JAPANESE EMPIRE

Friday, December 18, 2009


In the play, Kenji tries to explain to Ichiro how bad things were when they first came back to the Coast...this picture says it all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Group Sales

Steep Discounts Available for Groups of Ten or More
Timescape Arts Group presents the world premiere of Ken Narasaki’s stage adaptation of John Okada’s groundbreaking novel No-No Boy from March 26th through April 18, 2010 at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica, and we hope that you'll consider bringing a group to this important new play. We believe this is an excellent way to gather as a community to share our common stories, experiences, and perhaps even provide an opportunity for understanding.
Set after World War II as Japanese Americans return to the West Coast, the play follows draft resister Ichiro Yamada after he is released from prison and struggles to come to terms with the consequences of his choices, while the rest of the community tries to get back on its feet after a war that has uprooted them all. The cast includes (in alphabetical order) Keiko Agena, Emily Kuroda, West Liang, John Miyasaki, Sharon Omi, Sab Shimono and Robert Wu (more information about the production, the cast, the design team, and the process can be found at: nonoboy2010.com)
Produced by the same artistic team produced Innocent When You Dream (Critic’s Choice LA Times, Pick of the Week LA Weekly), which had a successful run at Electric Lodge in Venice and was later invited to perform at the Smithsonian Institute (Washington, DC) in 2008 (www.timescapearts.com), we believe this play will be as moving and thought-provoking as that production, if not even more so.
We will be happy to discuss the arrangement of post show discussions with actors and playwright after the show. Tickets for general admission are $25.00, but steep discounts are available for groups of 10 or more: $15.00 per person. Performances are Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm.
Please give me a call if you need additional information or would like to book a group. We look forward to seeing you at the show!
Sharon Omi

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Go For Broke

In a little bit of irony, I've been working on an oral history project called SOLDIER'S VOICES in which ten writers/actors interviewed soldiers from the past five wars and turned the interviews into monologues, scenes and stories.  We're performing it for the final time tonight, Veteran's Day, at the Actors' Gang as part of their WTF festival.

In a bit of greater irony, I'm also speaking at a fundraiser for the GO FOR BROKE Foundation, which is compiling videotaped interviews of Nikkei veterans of which my father was one.  They're going to play a few minutes from his interview and I had to view a 27 minute segment and give input on what my favorite portions were.  I've been really busy, and felt pressed for time, and when I went to the website, I had problems making it play, so by the time I actually started watching it, I was feeling like, "OK, let's get this over, I'm already way behind at work."  At first, I watched dispassionately, thinking thoughts like, "Man, he had the hiccups really bad during this interview," and "Wow, look how old he looks!  He must've only been 72 or 73 there, I don't remember him looking that old..." before it hit me:  I was watching and listening to my father, and seeing all the things that I loved/respected/feared about him:  The depth of his feelings, the stoicism with which he described his experiences, and his opinions, which included a potshot or two at the No No Boys, something about which we (needless to say) disagreed.

I was a little shaken up and wondered how he'd feel about my upcoming play, but when I think about what he did see of my work, I knew that he would tell me what he disagreed about but that he would be proud of the work itself.  Maybe wishful thinking, but I thought about it long and hard and I'm fairly certain that I know that much about him.

Anyway, since it's Veteran's Day, I thought I'd share the brief remarks I'm supposed to make on Saturday.  Happy Veteran's Day to all who sacrificed for their ideals.

Remarks for Go For Broke Foundation:

Probably every child of the Nisei soldiers would say the same thing that I’m about to say and that is, I could never get my dad to talk about the war in any meaningful way…he would be self-deprecating about his service, saying he got into the war late, after the worst fighting, that he just carried a litter for the wounded, and mostly said that there was nothing heroic about what he did, it was the other guys who faced the worst. Once my sisters and I learned about the internment camps and the exploits of the 442, we hounded him, and he’d just say all that stuff is in the past.

I was lucky enough to be visiting him and my mother in Seattle after his Hanashi interview and when he went bowling, my mom said, “Hey, someone interviewed Dad about the 442 and they gave us the videotape – you want to watch? He’s never let me watch it.” So we watched it and I was stunned by how many stories he had, the kind of fighting he saw, the thoughts he had about his service, the thoughts he had about war. The next morning, I asked him why he’d tell a stranger with a video-camera stories he wouldn’t tell us, and he said he just didn’t want to burden us with these stories. I told him these stories aren’t a burden, they are part of who he is and therefore part of who we are, and that started the last real conversation I’d have with him about his life because the next time I saw him was after he’d had a massive stroke.

I am so grateful to the Go For Broke Foundation because without this interview, there is so much I never would have known about my father. These videos are an invaluable tool for education and keeping the experiences of the Nikkei veterans alive. There’s no comparison between the facts that you can read in a book and the experience of hearing what happened from the men who experienced it. What they did for us should never be forgotten and with the help of these videos, hopefully, they never will be.

Before I came here tonight, I watched a part of my father’s video and again, I was so thankful for the fact that it exists. My father died in 2000, about a year or two after the interview, but for 27 minutes on that day, I got to visit with him again.
Thank you all for your support of this organization and thank you Go For Broke National Education Center.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Scan of a Xerox of a Photo of John Okada

OK, there are limits to technology, as this image will attest, but still, I think it's kind of cool.  I met with the woman who came to last Saturday's reading, the one who went to school with John Okada, and she showed me a class picture from their elementary school.  I was struck by how happy John looked (look at that smile!), and was also struck by the fact that he really stands out in this photo as the only child wearing black in a sea of white shirts. 

We had a really nice visit and now, we have this scan of a xerox of a photo to show you...and I share it with you because I kind of think it looks like found art.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yosh Kuromiya's Response to the No No Boy Reading

Yosh Kuromiya, one of the Heart Mountain Resisters, sent me this response to the NO NO BOY reading at the Center for the Preservation of Democracy last Saturday.  It's funny; I've been reading a book about the Heart Mountain Resisters and the author quotes a then 18 year-old Yosh extensively, calling him "unusually articulate, especially for an 18 year-old."  Well, he's still unusually articulate, and he gave me permission to post his note here; I hope you enjoy it:

Dear Ken,

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent reading of your play based on John Okada's "No-No Boy".

Being a draft resister myself, when I first read Okada's book back in the 60's, I was quite distressed with all the misleading innuendos and assumptions typical of those who opposed any type of protest against our government. I was greatly relieved at the reading where I discovered I could relate to each individual---albeit they were all playing assigned roles---with a degree of compassion as confused people caught-up in an insane dilemma, and not in terms of "friend or foe". Whether this was due to your expertise in presenting essentially the same plot, same characters, same dialogue, same message, but in a different media---or was it a matter of the improved perceptions of the players and the viewers (including you and I and the general public) in the 50 plus years that have elapsed since the book was published---I don't know. Perhaps it was a combination of all.

On a more concrete note, I appreciated the background narration of the story of Momo-taro in its entirety by the mother who, in spite of her delusions, maintains the courage and commitment few people ever attain. In the book, I could only feel sorrow for her. In your play she became my hero, even though I could never agree with her. (I must be a little crazy too!) The gathering of all the players with their thoughts at the conclusion was an extra bonus. Also, a question and answer session after the program may have been helpful.

Thanks for a great show and for reminding me there may still be hope for Japanese America and for this crazy world we live in.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Yosh Kuromiya

The Heart Mountain Resistor that I met after the reading last Saturday was Yosh Kuromiya.  He gave me his card and said I could contact him about the play, so I've sent him an email.  In the mean time, I googled him and came across this interview, done by his grandson for his Mount Baker High School U.S. and World History Class.  The teacher had her students interview people about World War II, so Yosh's grandson interviewed him.  Here's what they posted on their website:

Interviewed by Koji Kuromiya-Parker
The person that I chose to interview was my grandpa, Yosh Kuromiya. Yosh was nineteen at the start of the war and was (is) an American citizen. He had just started Jr. College but the evacuation put an end to his academic pursuits.
Yosh and his family of six were living in Monrovia, CA, a small town about 25 miles east of L.A. They got three weeks to store or dispose of all of their possessions and settle all financial matters in preparation for induction into an “assembly center.” They thought that all of this was a mistake and that they would be allowed back as soon as the authorities realized the absurdity of them wanted to destroy their own community. The “assembly center” was the Pomona County Fair Grounds where Yosh had previously enjoyed rides on the Ferris wheel. The cars in the parking lot had been replaced with rows of tarpapered barracks’ and the chain-link fence was now topped with barbed wire. Yosh and his family were held in Pomona for three months during the summer of 1942. Their anticipated “hearings” never occurred. In August, they were shipped on a train to a more permanent camp in northwest Wyoming. The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was on a desolate windswept prairie, far from civilization. There was barbed wire all around and guard towers. The prisoners were told that the fence was to keep out the wild animals and that the guard towers were to protect them from any irate citizens who didn’t want them in the camps. Yosh says, “Then why were the guns pointed inward?”
            In 1944, the government imposed the military draft into the camp. “We were to be inducted into a racially segregated combat unit to “prove our loyalty.”” Many went along with this out of fear of going to prison or being regarded as disloyal. Yosh was aghast at the irony of fighting for civil rights and freedoms that he and the other prisoners were denied. He refused induction under such unconstitutional and un-American circumstances. He was tried and convicted to a three year sentence for draft evasion. He was put into a federal prison. He was released on parole after two years. The war had ended and he was no longer a security risk. In late 1947, he received a presidential pardon reinstating all citizens’ rights and erasing all prison records. The nightmare was finally over but the scars still remain. Yosh feels no bitterness towards the United States, just a sense of awe that such a thing could happen in free America.
            Yosh’s reaction to Pearl Harbor was disbelief. Not just the magnitude of destruction, but the degree of political hysteria that followed. The Japanese bombed a part of him, yet he was being blamed for it.
In the camp, Yosh said it was a relief not to be constantly confronted with the righteous smirks of “White” oppressors; however, some people within the camp catered to the whims of the white administrative staff often at the expense of fellow internees. To pass time, Yosh found sanity in sketching. His favorite subject to draw was Heart Mountain, which was a 2,000 feet high rock outcropping that towered above the campsite and the otherwise desolate desert.
Yosh believes that the Atom Bomb was shameful. To him, the three greatest cowardly inhumane acts of the era were: The Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nick Pierotti's Facebook Comment

Sharon put an announcement for our NO NO BOY reading Saturday on her Facebook page, and a friend of hers posted the comment below.  It's pretty amazing and I figured I should share it here, in case it gives anyone any ideas for a possible screenplay: 

Nicholas Pierotti

This would make a great movie.

And also imagine what Los Angeles would be like today, if the United States had not instituted their intolerable internment policy.

Much of what is now Santa Monica and West L.A. and a lot of the San Fernando Valley were Japanese truck farms prior to the internment.

The internment was an enormous land-grab scheme on the level of "Chinatown" (where's Robert Towne when we really need him?).

And who profited? American superpatriot superheroes like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, who bought up all that San Fernando Valley land, and land in West L.A. and in Santa Monica (Chandler was right in calling "Bay City" the crookedest town in L.A.).

Hope and Crosby were movie stars, sure (if you like their "Road-movie" dreck), but their real money was in property. Lovable Bob Hope alone owned about 8,500 acres in California, most of it in the San Fernando Valley, bought when it was fruit orchards and vacant lots, after that land's real tenants had been rounded up and interred. By his own estimate, he was one of the largest individual property owners, if not the largest, in the Golden State.

Actually, if you read the original short stories that Raymond Chandler built his novels out of, you will find Marlowe's precursor driving to the coast through Santa Monica (Bay City in the stories), through miles of Japanese truck farms.
Isn't it time for full restitution and accountability? How about the confiscation of the Hope and Crosby estates, and the redistribution of that wealth among the descendants of the internment?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Readings and Writings

We pounded out two readings in one week, and hoo boy, are my arms tired!

Actually, my adrenal glands are tired because I was so freakin' nervous before each reading (senseless, because at that point, I can't do anything about ANYTHING, but maybe that's why), and then afterwards, was high as a kite because the actors were all so awesome and the feedback has been great. 

After the first reading, the penultimate event of Ken Choy's BREAKING THE BOW Festival, I got to work on some restructuring.  The day before the reading, I told the director, "Man, I can't believe how 'on the same page' we are about the play!"  He said, "You say that now...wait until we talk about the text."  He's been after me to do some major restructuring, and while I've avidly instituted many of his suggestions, that's a big one.  Still, I took a fair-sized step in that direction after that first reading by moving a major confrontation from the start of the second act to the middle of that act, bringing a key moment of the play a little closer to its climax.  I think everyone agreed that it was a step in the right direction, and now the director's suggesting I do away with what is now the climactic event, replacing it with new writing and making the source of Ichiro's epiphany his Ma's death.  I'm resisting, but he hasn't steered me wrong yet, and his suggestions actually solve some thematic and historical/political problems of the play, so...I think I'll have to be brave and give it a try.

The reading at the Miles Memorial Playhouse was great because I could see that the play works, even in its present form.  This is actually a scarier moment than you might think because really, it isn't a play until there's an audience there, and great actors can fool a writer into thinking he's got something when he might not.  An audience, however, will let you know if you DON'T have something.  It was a friendly audience, but there were a lot of really smart people whom I trust, and they all felt the play captures the book and is a moving piece of theater. 

The reading at The Center for the Preservation of Democracy (that's a mouthful - I'm always tempted to say JANM, because it's way shorter) was great in many ways:  First off, the aforementioned changes worked, and seeing that was one of the most important aspects of this reading to me.  Secondly, the audience was great and even caught some added humor in the piece.  Folks like Prince Gomolvilas and Dorie Baizley were in the audience (they've always been incredibly generous with their time and feedback), and friends like Soji Kashiwagi were there, so I plan to talk to him as well when we get a chance.  But the most amazing thing were the Niseis in the audience:  One of them was a guy who looked to have been in his nineties - he loved the play and the actors, and said that it captured so many of the emotions that he remembers from that time.  And then he said, "You got the anger, you got the depth of feeling...because you got a soul!" 

Wow.  I mean, I don't want to post that to look like I'm bragging (and actually, I should've given the credit to John Okada, who was really the one who captured the anger and the angst), but you know?  That was an amazing thing to hear.  From an old Nisei guy, no less.

I spoke to a Nisei lady who was a classmate of John Okada's, and she offered to share some memorabilia with me, so I got her phone number and plan to call her one of these days to take a look at it.  I also spoke to a Nisei guy I recognized as one of the Heart Mountain resistors - possibly part of their Fair Play Committee.  He said he almost didn't come to the play because he had some issues with the book - he objected to some of the historical inaccuracies, and the self-hatred of the main character:  "We didn't feel self-hatred," he declared, "We were PROUD of what we did."  He was satisfied that some of the changes in the adaptation helped to correct the record, and he thought the play illustrated a broader range of how the war affected people, so he was happy with it.  He gave me his card and email and offered to answer any questions I might have (his wife said, "He'll send you pages!"), so I'm looking forward to that correspondence as well.

For today, I'll nurse my adrenal glands, have some chicken soup, and be grateful to have this project and these people in my life.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oscar Wilde Quote

"The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life." - Oscar Wilde

I love that quote, not just because I love theatre best of all the arts (and it's the only one I can do), but because it really captures what I love most about it - it's purpose is to bring art to life and life to art.  It's purpose is practical, tangible, though its rewards are far beyond the practical and the tangible - done well, one comes away with a better understanding of life, of one's self, of one's fellow humans.

It is my wish that this play will help take us into the heads of these very specific people in this very specific time; that for a couple of hours, we will disappear, and come out in the end knowing something more than understanding.

Friday, October 23, 2009

James Michener Quote

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."  – James Michener

I'm not a very good rewriter either, but let's use that quote for inspiration and pretend that I am!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rehearsal and Readings

We had the first of two rehearsals for our two upcoming readings last night and I can't tell you how anxious I was to hear the play.  Many years ago, I used to curate the two seperate reading series that EWP used to do, and I was always a big fan of 'em, as the people I used to spam incessantly can attest.  I've talked to more than one person who liked readings sometimes more than the eventual productions, and I have to admit, I'll say that easily more than 50% of the time I've heard or participated in staged or unstaged readings, I've ended up liking them better than the full productions.  I think it's the PURITY of them:  Just the actors and the words.  The essence of a story.  A friend of mine tonight said that she liked readings because "it's like being read to."

And of course...that's exactly what it is...with the added plus that you're being read to by artists.

Anyway, as a theater administrator, I understood the utility of readings...in the abstract.  They're for development, right?  As a writer...I can't tell you what an absolute necessity they are.  We've done a couple of informal readings in our living rooms to hear this play, and they've been invaluable.  But there's nothing like the reality that this sucker's going to be heard - both for the actors and the writer - to focus everyone involved, especially (maybe) the writer.

Alone, for months, you tinker.  You think of the things people have said to you, you add this, subtract that, move this to another place, and you fool around with it.  It's all very necessary - you need to doodle, and because text takes up so little space on your computer, you can doodle into infinity.  But you really can't, because pretty soon, the whole thing becomes abstract because you've been doodling for months and pretty soon, the thing looks more like a mathematical equation than a story.

And me?  I suck at math.

So, if you're extremely lucky, like we are, you know a lot of really talented artists, and you ask them to do a reading, and they agree, and you rehearse, and with really smart and talented artists, you can see what works, and what doesn't, fairly quickly.  Some things, the jury's out on:  Actors have to find it, the director has to find it, the audience is going to be the final ingredient that will either make the recipe work or not, so there's some stuff that you'll have to wait on.  But there's plenty of stuff that you can see:  That's on me.  That one, I've gotta fix.

I've got a dream cast, I've got my favorite director, I've got my friends.  We're on our way.  Hope to see you this Sunday.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Original Cover

The Amazon reviewer mentioned her dislike of the 1970s-era cover of NO NO BOY.  Here's the original graphic from the 1957 version: 

Amazon Customer Review of No No Boy (the novel)

(The following is a customer review from one Joan Zabelka.  Sharon came across it while looking for something else and thought it was so well written, she passed it along to me.  Joan kindly said we could reprint it here.)

"The cover is awful. I would have passed right by this disturbing picture and moved on to something more appealing. Fortunately, I had to read this for a class.I had to move beyond the cover and I'm so glad I did.

Okada's story is about starting over - starting over when you don't want to, starting over when you don't even know where to begin, starting over when ending it all is a viable option.

Set in post World War II, it tells the story of Ichiro, a twenty something Japanese man who returns from prison after refusing to serve in the army. Life in the internment camp and prison could not compare to the torture chamber that he set up in his own mind. Will he ever be able to move beyond his mother's dream of returning to Japan towards his own desire to feel truly American.

Second generation immigrants will be able to identify with Ichiro. Living with one foot in each world is not an easy task. Any one who is on a journey of starting over or rediscovering who they are will be encouraged by Ichiro's journey." - Joan Zabelka

There is no way I could've said that better myself.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Educator Letter

Say, are you a teacher, a professor, community leader, or anyone who might be interested in bringing a group to see our full production of NO NO BOY next spring?  Or do you know of someone in a similar position?  Below is a letter we've sent out to the educators we know (admittedly, only a handful) and I thought I'd publish it here as an invitation to anyone who'd like to see the reading to judge for themselves whether or not they'd like to bring a group.  It'll be totally stripped down with minimal staging, no props, costumes, etc. but I think with this kick-ass cast, you'll get a hint of the power of the full production.  Words and actors, man, I think that's all you need to start.  The letter is below - if you can use it, or can pass it along, please do!  Contact information is included!

Dear Friend:

We will be presenting the world premiere of a new play based on John Okada’s NO-NO BOY by Ken Narasaki this spring at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. In preparation for this production, we will be doing a couple of workshop readings at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica (2pm on October 25) and at the Japanese American National Museum (2pm on October 31) in Little Tokyo.

No-No Boy has been taught in Asian American Studies Classes since its second publication in the 1970s; originally published in 1957, it has had a tremendous impact on at least two generations of Asian American writers, performers, artists, students, and academics. Set in Seattle after the end of World War II, the story focuses on the fictional Ichiro Yamada, a young Japanese American who refused to serve in the U.S. Army after being interned with his family. He answers the infamous questions 27 and 28 on a loyalty oath administered to men of draft age in the internment camps “No” and “No” and thus becomes known, along with the other men who answered the same, as a “No-No Boy”. Returning home after two years in prison, he reconnects with Freddie, another “No-No Boy”, and Kenji, a veteran of the famous 442nd Battalion, who has lost a part of his leg and may be dying. He meets Emi, a young woman whose husband has signed up for another tour of duty, ashamed that her father was repatriated back to Japan. Each of these characters must consider their futures in their community and their country, and Ichiro must find peace within his family and within himself. Gordon Hirabayashi, who tried to challenge the constitutionality of the internment camps, says that John Okada’s book “heralded the beginning of an authentic Japanese American literature.”
This would be an excellent opportunity to introduce students to this compelling story as a new piece of theater. We are encouraging college and high school groups to attend this production and will be offering group discounts and will be happy to schedule post-show discussions for your students or group with the playwright and actors.
We would like to invite you to attend one of our readings to see for yourself if this play would be a fit with your syllabus; if so, we can give you more information about the full production. The cast for our reading includes (in alphabetical order) Keiko Agena, Emily Kuroda, John Miyasaki, Sharon Omi, Sab Shimono, Jin Suh, Greg Watanabe, Ping Wu, and Robert Wu; the readings and the production will be directed by award-winning director Alberto Isaac. You can find more information about these readings at: nonoboy2010.com

Please give us a call at 310.592.1160 to reserve your free tickets.

Thanks for your time and hope to see you at the readings.


Sharon Omi

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fathers and Sons

Part of what makes studying the era right after the war so endlessly fascinating to me is that it provides an excuse to look at the things that shaped my parents - mostly my father, really, because like my most men my age, I found my father completely unknowable.  Will Ferrell, hosting SNL at the end of last season, did a mock actor-y monologue spoofing the adult son's bitter monologue to his dying and silent father.  It was brilliant and hilarious, but it was so damn close to the monologue I wrote (and eventually performed) in INNOCENT WHEN YOU DREAM that my response changed from amused appreciation to "OmigodIwanttodierightnow!"


But I'll cut myself some slack - I'm not alone in my unresolved feelings and what the hey, every attempt to understand our parents is an attempt to understand ourselves, and in the case of many ethnic folks, it's an attempt to understand the collective WE.

An old friend from San Francisco, Randall Nakano, wrote to me last week.  We'd acted together in a few plays at the Asian American Theater Company - he was a bit older than me and had a little girl.  I saw him at an audition once with his little girl upon whom he doted and who clearly adored him, and I thought:  "Man.  I want me one of them daughters, that looks like that would be so cool."  Wish granted.   I lost touch with Randall after we moved to LA, so it was so good to hear from him for so many reasons.  I asked him if I could share with you part of what he wrote, and he graciously assented:  It's a story about him and his father:

  "Very excited (thrilled) to hear you're adapting John
  Okada's 'No-No Boy' for the stage.  It was a major, significant read in my
  life. It was a story that spoke to me deeply.  To this day it connects me
  to my father.
  I remember like it was just yesterday when I,  just out of college
  unfairly, self-righteously, insensitively,
  stupid-youthfully, confronted him of
  why he allowed the govt. to incarcerate him and all the
  other Nisei men andwomen.  The hippy son, middle-class comfortable,
  pseudo-firebrand social/political activist, self-righteous in his
  indignation, indirectly accusing his proud father of being weak, pathetic, wrong to
  allow such a violation; so unfair of me, such naiveté and lack of
  knowledge and understanding.  My dad died too young at 62.  I never had
  a chance to  apologize to him for my callowness .

When my sister and I
were going through his things to keep, discard, etc. we came across in
  his wallet, a
  creased, folded, scrap of paper, like a treasured, secret keepsake. It was the
  questions from the loyalty questionnaire cut out from
  the other pages.  It was like he carried it as a burden to
  bear or a cross to carry.  Dad had just gotten married, mom was pregnant
  with their first child, he had a job with the Calif. Board of Equalization
  (an unheard of gig for an oriental in those times of discrimination) when the
  war broke out and  their world crumbled and tumbled into a camp in Colorado.
 I know it’s current to say that Asian American literature should move
  on from the internment, “anti”-sentiments, and the victims who bear the  scars
  of the 20th century.
  But the process results in the progress. We’re experiencing it now..."

I so totally agree, Randy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Good and bad are equally valid choices. We just prefer the good." - Peter Sarsgaard

October 3, 2009: I wrote about worry yesterday, and worry in this case is just fear of being "bad." We went to a screening last night of Nick Hornsby's AN EDUCATION (excellent, btw, if extremely discomfiting at times), and there was a Q & A afterwards. Peter Sarsgaard did an hilarious impression of their Danish director, the point being you could never tell if she liked something or hated it because her manner, her affect, and her intonation was always the same, regardless: "Peter...that was very, very...good" or "Peter...that was very, very...bad." He said he got to like that way of working, saying it took out the "reward the actor when he's good, hit him when he's bad" type of direction, making him feel like "Good and bad are equally valid choices. We just prefer the good."

Kind of takes the worry out, when you look at it that way.

October 2, 2009

I have worried about everything I've written. Of course, there are the regular, pedestrian worries - "Does this suck? Do I suck?" - but there are always worries specific to the things we write. I had a ball writing GHOSTS AND BAGGAGE, but when it came time to produce it, I worried "What will my parents think?" The male character was pretty pissed off at his father, who was safely dead, though my own father wasn't and surely recognized some of the arguments. I also worried "What will my in-laws think?" (I had my wife Sharon engaging in various acts of simulated sex onstage just a few feet away from them), and what was once a gleefully liberating sexual romp in my head became "What was I THINKING of?" when a production became imminent.
I worried less about THE MIKADO PROJECT, because I had a brilliant co-writer named Dorie Baizley with whom to share the blame, though as we got closer to opening, I began to worry if people would recognize their own characters (one of whom was not intended to be based on anyone, though the actor somehow channeled a very specific figure whom he didn't even know) and, of course, I worried that I had gotten in way over my head in teaming up to write a musical, a form about which I know so little.
I SHOULD HAVE worried more about INNOCENT WHEN YOU DREAM, which drew quite a bit from a week spent in a hospital with my dying father and my three sisters. Written in stages over the course of a number of years, it went through many drafts, and I was mostly preoccupied with the entirely invented part of the story and had disguised the part that was a little closer to my own family's experience. Strangely enough, after much cutting and pasting and rearranging and more cutting, what we ended up with in the hospital scenes were moments amazingly close to what had actually happened. The central conflict between the siblings was invented, as were some more humorous aspects of their characters, but the dialogue that remained was at times verbatim, which I only realized when I found myself saying the words onstage just a few feet away from my sisters, whose collective mouths were often literally hanging open during the performance.
I've written another play, dashed off in 48 hours, that's like a crazy doodle from an unfettered id, and my daughter Rosie started to read it before putting it down, disturbed: "How does Daddy KNOW these things?" she asked Sharon.
Lots to worry about whenever one sits down to write, right?
So what's to worry about NO NO BOY?
A lot of people have held the film rights at one point or another and many have thrown up their hands: It's very much a novel and as such, it resists adaptation. There are some factual problems, some that cut to the very core of the main character's dilemma (probably unknown to John Okada), that have to be fixed and corrected in a way that doesn't feel like so much exposition, but the most worrisome aspect of this adaptation is the fact that the novel has had such an impact on so many people - the raw anger and despair contained within is so different from most Nikkei literature, as are its many damaged characters. More than one person has told me that the book changed them in some measurable fashion, and I feel the same way about it - I was a different person after I read it than I was before. Everyone has had the experience of seeing an adaptation of a beloved book only to be outraged by how badly it got screwed up. Greater minds than mine have already grappled with this seminal novel, so what makes me think I can do it justice?
Many writers have said that the only reason to write is because one has to. And that's how I feel about NO NO BOY. I was shocked some years back when my father, as part of the Seattle Nisei Veterans, participated in a protest against a JACL proposal to apologize to the No No boys: He was angry; he felt that the Sanseis were turning them into heroes when he and many of his veteran friends felt that the draft resistors and the No No boys had, in fact, undermined the sacrifices made by their fallen comrades. I argued that I felt that ALL of the responses that the Nisei had to their injustice contributed to the better lives that we had growing up - the fact that they took different paths and were in opposition to each other ultimately did not matter in the end: The veterans proved their loyalty and by extension, the loyalty of all Japanese Americans, while the draft resistors and No No boys helped spotlight the fact that the Japanese Americans had gotten a seriously raw deal, one worth risking prison and ostracism for. Our conversation ended in anger, though a short time later, my father, in a rare reversal for him, said that after thinking about it, he agreed that ultimately, everyone who followed their conscience helped to undo the injustice done to them all.
In re-examining John Okada's NO NO BOY, I think he really captured that maelstrom of feeling and that is what I've tried to focus on in this adaptation. These were young people who had all just undergone gutwrenching and head-spinning experiences and Okada captures them as they try to put their lives back together when they still don't quite know how. The community is split and though some people are moving forward, others are not. It's my hope that our play will help to shine a light on that time and provide a larger perspective for everyone who sees it. It's also my hope that the play will bring new readers to the original book and remind other readers why that book so moved them in the first place.
I'll wait to worry about what people think on Opening Night when it'll be too late to do anything about it.