CATS presents young love thwarted by war and prejudice
Special to Prospector
Know & Go
Who: Community of Asian Theatre of the Sierra presents
What: “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet”
Where: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St, Nevada City
When: April 16 through May 9; 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. Sunday, May 9 only
Tickets: Thursdays, $20 advance, $23 door; Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday, $23 advance, $25 door. Available at BriarPatch Co-op and The Book Seller in Grass Valley; http://www.catsweb.org
It’s bad enough when Henry Lee’s parents hate his one true love Keiko Okabe.
It’s even worse for Henry when Keiko is arrested and incarcerated for the crime of being an American citizen of Japanese descent during World War II. (She doesn’t even speak Japanese.)
And it’s the absolute worst when Henry’s Chinese father hates the Japanese so much that he intercepts the letters between the two lovers so they both believe they were jilted by the other.
But the story doesn’t end there — it leaps 40 years back and forth between wartime Seattle and the 1980s. Now grown and a recent widower, Henry becomes obsessed with finding Keiko’s family treasures, which he promised to keep safe in the basement of the almost forgotten Panama Hotel in Seattle.
And that’s not the end of the bittersweet story either. (No spoiler alerts here.)
True to form, the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS) is staging an extravagant production featuring about two dozen multiracial, multigenerational actors (often playing multiple roles) portraying a tragic time in Chinese-Japanese-American culture and history.
The show opens at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 16) at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City with a final dress rehearsal; all tickets are $10. Friday will be an 8 p.m. preview show with all tickets $15.
The Opening Night Gala Reception is at 8 p.m. Saturday with a special appearance by the author Jamie Ford. Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 at the door — if available.
CATS dares to be bold
Unlike some previous well-known, award-winning CATS productions and musicals, the “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is a virtually unknown play. This is its California premiere and only second production anywhere ever.
It’s a poignant drama of star-crossed lovers defeated by wartime paranoia and hate-fueled ethnic “patriotism,” much of it beyond the common knowledge of most non-Asian Americans.
Is CATS, now in its 21st year, taking a chance on this one? Not hardly.
“We’ve already sold out four performances, and the Opening Night Gala is going fast,” said CATS Executive Director Jeannie Wood with a grin.
“It sold out before it opened in Seattle,” said Annie Lareau — and that was “about a 30-show run.”
Lareau adapted the book of the same name by New York Times best-selling author Jamie Ford. She directed it for Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre in 2012. CATS board members saw it and invited her to direct the same show here. Lareau has been here since March 8 in very intense rehearsals.
Not exactly by-the-book
In by-the-book theatre, the actors read the script just sitting around a table or with minimal physical acting.
In the Book-It style of this production, the audience will perceive it as a full-blown play — except when the characters suddenly switch from dialog to narrative from the book. It’s seamless and moves the plot along nicely.
“I haven’t rewritten any of Jamie’s [Ford] words. I’ve cut some, but I haven’t changed any of the language,” Lareau vowed with contractual conviction. She noted Ford had refused to sell the movie rights, because they wanted to change dialog and plot and generally do what Hollywood does to books.
Although the script was mostly a lock, Lareau said she had freedom to audition some of her actors from their credits and demo videos.
That’s how Randall Nakano of San Francisco got the gig as Old Henry. (Young Henry is played by Kevin M Lin, and Young Keiko is played by Lyra Dominguez.)
A member of the Actors Equity union for 25 years (“and proud of it!”), Nakano generally hates being typecast as an Asian-American — but, “I couldn’t say no to this.” It hits too close to home.
He said his parents were “incarcerated in concentration camps without gas chambers.”
His sister was born inside.
“I’m passionate about this!” he said about the forced relocations and theft of the property of Japanese-American citizens. “I want it to be known, have it be seen.”
“The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” definitely lets it be known and shown in a fast-moving play of two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
The play runs through May 9.
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