Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda

Danny Glover and June Angela - Photos by Michael Lamont

By Joe Straw

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda is a metaphor for life’s little beautiful things.  

Yohen is a Japanese word that can be embraced into the English language and finds its meaning only by osmosis.  For some, the meaning hits right away, for others it takes some time.   

The meaning is not layered, or on top, or hidden beneath some dark resource, but out in the open, and caressing to a gentle fault.

The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players with Generous Support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation Endowment for East West Players present Danny Glove in Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda and Directed by Ben Guillory through November 19, 2017.  

She explained Yohen in the middle of the play, sitting on her tender couch, holding a piece of pottery, turning it in her hand and staring at its beauty.

Yohen, is a Japanese word that describes a flaw in the process of firing a piece of pottery which leaves the ceramic work discolored or misshapen, but perhaps still beautiful.

And so it was with their relationship, their marriage, the thing that has kept them together oh these many years.  But something, in their frangible association, looking at it a new way, that she must discover him all over again, in a new condition.  Why?  Well, it is the metaphor that is examined during the course of the play.

Thirty-seven years in a marriage is a long time.  James (Danny Glover) a happily retired military man and until recently a satisfied man who had been thrown unceremoniously out of his own house, no their home. Or, maybe it was a mutual parting of a temporary nature.

And as he enters, the home he shared with his wife Sumi, (June Angela) looks cold and lifeless.

This is a two-dimensional home.  The upstage wall is compartmentalized filled with her pottery and trimmed bonsai trees decorated by a myriad of light and colors, wonderfully designed by Christopher Scott Murillo and beautifully lit by Michael Ricks, Lighting Designer.

Sumi’s place appears to be that back wall, while James’ place is the sofa and the TV’s viewing chair.  This is a picture of such diversity that one would find in suburb of a military base.

But, there is something wrong here, the place is immaculate, quiet and cold when a James, disheveled in appearance, exhales and knocks on the front door. He knocks with heaviness, a slouching and tattered personage, as though he’s lived here before, but only now visiting, hoping the occupant within will welcome him with open arms.

Such is not the case as he enters the door.  Sumi, his wife, wanted him dressed nice, perhaps she wanted to be presented with a gift, or some flowers, something viewed as an initial first date, a start from the very beginning.  At this point he is a man coming out of the kiln and into view for the first time and at first he does not present a pretty picture.

But for Sumi it’s not enough, she now wants more of James.  She wants him to go back to school. (Into the kiln again, but that process has ended.)  He says he has a nice pension and requests a beer.

The tea is on the table and Sumi doesn’t move.

“I’ll think I get one.” – James

Only to discover things have changed – Sumi has thrown out the beer.  All of it.

Philip Kan Gotanda’s play is a fascinating look at relationships and how one is perceived through another set of eyes or glasses, at another time, and through a different set of circumstances.  Each player has his or her taciturn passion, unable to speak until the final volley has been directed.  They sit with timid passions finding the heated energy to finally let loose and observe the others tremulous reaction.  They want still after all these years but maybe they want what the other does not.  Still, they see what they first saw when they first met and that in itself is the beauty of the play. 

The Yohen metaphor holds throughout the play under Ben Guillory’s direction. The play is so simple, beautiful, and heartbreaking that it takes one’s breath away at any given moment. Guillory takes special precaution in making the metaphor work with a special kind of love in this remarkable love story.

Danny Glover

Danny Glover is never going to change as James.  James is always the man he wanted to be no matter how you decorate him or add little flavors to his existing shell; he is still the man that came from the kiln. Try as he might, and he does try, he is in a no win situation. Glover is terrific in the role.

June Angela

June Angela is simply marvelous as Sumi.  Personified, she is a samurai at one moment standing in fighting position and a businesswoman in another.  She is a wife and proud to be an equal partner in this relationship, but she is at a point where she wants more than he can offer.  She bathes in his beauty, shares in his warmth, and loves in a way that is only particular to him and only him.   

Wonderful costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer.  

Other members of the crew are as follows: 

Corinne Carrillo - Sound Designer
Glenn Michael Baker - Property Master
Brandon Hong Cheng - Stage Manager 

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the idea of a metaphor in a play.

The David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center for the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 625-7000

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