|Elaine Ackles, Olivia Cordell,
Tomoko Karina, Hiroko Imai, Hua Lee
Photo by Jenny Graham
"Five Japanese women learn to adjust to a new life in rural Kansas alongside their American GI husbands after World War II in this deeply moving, humorous and surprising play that explores a little-known chapter in American history."
I list the cast just to try to put things in order.
Himiko (Tomoko Karina) The ghost
Setsuko (Hiroko Imai)
Atsuko (Hua Lee)
Teruko (Olivia Cordell)
Chiz (Elaine Ackles)
It's the sixties. We meet these beautiful Japanese War Brides having come to the United States twenty years ago, winding up in the middle of Kansas. The play charming and musical and colorful and mythical and sad ...a little..
Himiko (Tomoko Karina), glides dramatially down a long dark stairway. She confronts the spirit of her dead husband. And..
then.. commits suicide to end her struggle as an unhappy widow. Himiko's past is slightly checkerd but she survived the Third Degree that war brides were subjected to, coming to America to endure a difficult life with her abusive husband, Billy Hamilton. She killed him in self defense.
Evidently, when service men in Japan found wives at the end of the war (more than 5,000 new immigrants opted for the West) many of those soldiers and their wives were all shipped to Fort Riley, Kansas. Subtext to the narritve seems to imply that sticking these folks in the 'middle of nowhere' would keep them safely together?
TEA takes its title from the way that ... in Japan.. the social and ceremonial aspects of sitting with others brings them together. Himiko has left an array of stuff behind. Her Japanese friends gather to do an exorcistic cleansing of the space and to work out their own issues in exposition that elevates each of the four women left behind to discuss the challenges and opportunities of being Easterners in a Western land.
Atsuko (Hua Lee) and Teruko (Olivia Cordell) arrive. As each of Himiko's friends appear (after announcing in a prologue how they take their tea), the jockeying for social position in the group evolves. We meet Setsuko (Hiroko Imai) and eventually, the hip and happening Chiz (Elaine Ackles) arrives. Of all the women Chiz loves assimilation and has married her warrior hubby whom she describes as Sweet Brown Sugar!
I highly recommend this production but with the caveat that 'getting' the names of the actors and the characters has been a challenge for me. The story evolves much like a dance with time slipping here and there back and forth with the help of Carlo Maghirang's simple 3/4 set. Azra King-Abadi's lights combine smoothly and effectively. The careful pace of the production reminded me a bit of the Tea Ceremony: The precise & thoughtful way traditional Japanese customs are presented. I might have added wood block in the tradition of Kabuki as a nod, but this is a modern play with modern intentions.
TEA is double cast. I was told that there were so many excellent actresses at the auditions that the idea to expand the production to include two casts was irresistible. In my imagination, I wondered if each of the ten actresses on stage at the same time might have been an interesting choice. Silly me.
TEA by Velina Hasu Houston
Directed by Rebecca Wear
720 Kohler Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(in downtown LA, just south of Little Tokyo & the Arts District)
April 23 – May 15, 2022
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.)
Tickets and Information:
Free parking lot across the street
Plenty of street parking