Theater Review: “No-No Boy”
By Jennifer Ta
April 15, 2010 9:38 p.m.
It’s just one decision: Fight for your country or fight for a stance you believe in.
It’s just one decision, but a decision that changes the life of Ichiro Yamada, the main character in the production “No-No Boy” played by Robert Wu. An adaptation of John Okada’s novel, “No-No Boy” centers on a handful of characters living with the consequences of World War II and the release of Japanese Americans from internment camps.
In particular, the story focuses on Ichiro, who returns home after resisting the draft. Part of his resistance was due to his mother’s insistence that they remain loyal to their Japanese heritage, but mostly it was due to his belief that the United States was wrong to place Japanese Americans into internment camps. However, what Ichiro encounters from the community is scorn and alienation while his family unravels due to his mother’s diminishing sanity.
Though minor in comparison to the others, the character Pa, played by Sab Shimono, is a quick favorite, who delivers the small amount of humor in the play. Though his character can frustrate the audience by choosing to be naive about the problems tearing apart his family, Shimono’s tearful cries at the end of the play move the audience to forgive his flaws. In the end, Shimono is able to deliver to his character the aura of aged wisdom, all the while maintaining a sense of childlike innocence.
Another moving performance comes from Emily Kuroda, who plays Mrs. Kanno. Despite having played the cold mother Mrs. Kim on the popular show “Gilmore Girls,” Kuroda plays a completely different character here, one whose life is filled with tragic losses. Though she has no more than 15 minutes on stage, Kuroda wastes no time making the audience feel for Mrs. Kanno. Soft-spoken, with tears glistening in her eyes but never falling, Kuroda is able to portray a woman barely maintaining her strength for the sake of her son.
The most heartfelt moment in the play comes from a simple scene between Mrs. Kanno and her son Kenji, played by Greg Watanabe. Few words are spoken, but the love between mother and son is immediately established by the two actors. Despite not fully knowing the background story of this family, the audience knows only too well the sacrifices the son makes for his mother and the sacrifices the mother wishes she could make.
While the performances were moving, the technicalities of the play can be somewhat distracting from the story line. For example, the use of a background screen to provide the change of setting on stage is distracting and ends up creating an artificial feel to an otherwise authentic-feeling play.
Also, toward the end of the play, there is an awkward scene in which Ichiro tries to break apart a fight and suddenly all the actors on stage yell out in a slow, mournful way while Wu slows down his motions. However, instead of creating a powerful slow-motion scene, the yelling seems a bit too much, and Wu looks strange as his body goes through awkward movements. The result essentially undercuts what should be a dramatic moment.
The actors are able to erase these minor flaws by delivering emotional performances until the very last minute. In the end, what the play really achieves is leaving the audience in Ichiro’s shoes, still left wondering if that one decision was really the right one.
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