There’s a sudden spark of interest circling the relationship between Japanese Culture and the Black experience. East West Players and The Robey Theatre Company took us back to Gardena circa 1986 this past weekend with “Yohen” starring Danny Glover, after 18 years, reprising his role as James Washington. Glover and June Sumi play a married couple, going through a “reevaluation” of their 37-year marriage. Yohen, written by Philip Kan Gotanda, and directed by Ben Guillory speaks heavily to bonds and differences between Japanese and African Americans.
Why has there been a lack of conversation concerning the two races until now? One reason may be that the Nisei, who were children at the time of interment in 1946, are now well into their 80’s and 90’s, therefore, increasing the urgency of preserving historical facts. In Yohen we see the differences clearly between the Washingtons, where the stigmas of prejudices are brought out.
Yohen refers to the unpredictable changes that take place when pottery is placed in the kiln. The result may be hideous or it may create an unusual beauty. This metaphor is the central conflict between this interracial couple. James (Glover) and Sumi (June) married 37 years. Without warning, She suddenly wants to bring about change by asking James to move out and start courting her again. Overcoming differences. Traditional Japanese culture clashes with simple Urban Americana is the underlining message of this poignant and powerful one-act play.
There is genuine warmth between Glover and June. At first, James tries to do whatever will make Sumi happy by snapping her out of what he feels may be a “way over-the-hill-ism period” (“a Stage 2 kind of thing?” he suggests tentatively.). Chock full of impactful one-liners like Sumi stating things like “James you’re too big, it would have killed me to have your baby” in which she feels to justify the reason they had no children.
At 65, he is a retired GI from the Army, fascinated with boxing and confused as to why his wife would want to pretend that their get-together in first scene, is their first date. She is 61 and has been at the same secretarial job for 18½ years. Being from a proud Samurai background, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the flip coin of rich vs poor, spoiled vs hard labor was coming to a head. Cultural Pride is the white elephant that surfaced as each conflict progressed between James’ simple life and Sumi’s constant nagging.
She aspires to a life of elegance and restraint, and devotes herself to self-improvement and studying the art of Japanese pottery making. He wants to drink beer, watch television, and coach young would-be boxers at a local club — boys she considers thugs who don’t come from “good families.” The two love each other and want their relationship to continue, but mounting revelations continue to drive them apart. Ultimately, even after nearly 40 years together, their cultural differences may never come to a consensus. Despite their relationship, Downtown is still in love with Danny Glover, known best for his movie roles in Steven Spielberg‘s Color Purple or Die Hard 2 fame, where he’s known to take even the most seemingly irritable characters and transform them into some of the world’s most remarkable and memorable roles.
YOHEN opened to a packed house at East West Players on October 27th and closed to a standing ovation on November 19th. For more information visit www.eastwestplayers.org
Written by Dr. Mello Desire Photos courtesy EastWestPlayers.Org