Thanks to Diana for this information!
THANK YOU DAN!!!! Yes, I have seen the play but each time I sat down to write the review I had no idea where to start...it is sooooo wonderfully intricate. Now that you have posted some other reviews I know everyone has already got a picture of the story line so I don't have to try to get EVERY wonderful nuance into one review.
So here it goes...The first act presents the history, people, culture, and philosophy of the Japanese nation through song, symbolism, poetry, and dance using the narrator to help guide the audience through the intricacies of the performance. A humongous challenge but it meets this challenge by placing several layers of meaning within each and every scene within the act. One song alone manages to relate the people, the industry (rice), the social classes and it's problems, the daily life, AND the mind set of Japan prior to the arrival of Commodore Perry.
Another perfect example of the layering of nuances within a scene is Paolo's and Michael K. Lee's duet. In this scene the two characters, Kayama and Manjiro, are returning to Kayama's home. Along the way they share in a song. Sounds simple enough..but not so fast! The song is used to relate Kayama's deep and abiding love for his wife (which has an important place in the play), it is also used to relate Manjiro's love for "that foreign place" (Boston, Massachusetts to be exact), it is ALSO used to show the growth of a friendship between the two characters.
Now if that weren't enough...the whole song is formatted in such a way that the characters are sharing in a traditional form of Japanese poetry, Haiku, thus sharing with the audience that particular aspect of Japanese culture. By the way, the title of this song is appropriately "I Will Make A Poem." This layering of nuances may be a bit challenging to follow but oh so rewarding. By the end of the first act you're ready to understand the overwhelming impact opening to western trade had on Japan. You can identify with the bewildering emotions that swept the inhabitants of the isolated island nation and how they struggled to adapt to the monumental changes that so abruptly took place in their lives.
The second act focuses on these bewildering emotions and the impact western trade has on Japan but more specifically the characters of Kayama and Manjiro. Kayama's character evolves before your eyes within the performance of a song, Manjiro's evolves through a few different scenes but each goes through there own metamorphosis that is quite complex and yet easily understood. The final song manages to bring Japan through modern history up to today focusing on the nations ability to adapt to monumental changes of all kinds and still find her strength.
I congratulate the creative team for putting so much hard work behind this production in order to create such a stupendous play. As for the performers, there is no way such an intricate performance could possibly have been successful without the dedication, hard work, and TALENT of a wonderful cast.
B.D. Wong was a warm and serene guide during much of his role as reciter, injecting proverbs and notes of wisdom at profound moments. When the part called for it you would see a power eminate from him as he delivered more dramatic news or delved into another character. His role must have been very challenging, the audience can not understand the play without his presence but if he became too obtrusive he could be distracting. In my eyes he balanced his part perfectly and without him I would not have been able to enjoy this play.
Michael K. Lee, umm, does the K. stand for Kayama? It was so easy for me to identify with his character that surely he must BE Kayama. His character's relationships were tangible. You could feel Kayama's love for his wife and his budding friendship for Manjiro, even his reverent fear of Lord Abe. This actor made his character come to life for me and I truly felt for Kayama.
This is by far the most challenging thing I have ever seen Paolo do. With the stage presence that has always impressed me, Paolo played Manjiro dynamically. From fisherman held prisoner facing execution to honored samurai to man stripped of his meaning his character goes through a whirlwind of dramatic changes that would test any actor's skills. Undergoing so many changes, a character is at risk of "fading" or becoming unrealistic but Paolo guides his character through these changes with the emotional strength befitting of each scene. Amazingly enough, Manjiro remained real and tangible.
This play hinges on the emotional impact of the two key characters...Kayama and Manjiro. If the audience does not identify with both of these characters then they miss the whole essence of the play. In my personal opinion Michael K. Lee and Paolo Montalban provided their characters with enough emotional impact to tear at the heart and touch the soul. Could they have done this without the rest of the cast...of course not! Yuko Fumoto played Tamate, Kayama's wife, with a sweet, gentle grace and profound depth of emotion. Alvin Y. F. Ing was superb both as the old man reminiscing on what he saw from the tree and as Shogun's mother singing "Chrysanthemum Tea." He performed so well in character that I didn't realize both characters were the same actor nor did I realize that the wonderful "lady" who had just sung as she served her son the tea was actually a man.
I realized other female roles were played by male actors but Alvin did such a wonderful job with this role that I guess I didn't look that closely! Sab Shimono played a very distraught Lord Abe and did a wonderful job of relating to the audience the frustration and inability of the powers of Japan to stop the overwhelming influx of western trade. Joseph Anthony Foronda showed a great deal of diversity playing four different roles ranging from a witty thief taking advantage of dire circumstances to a soothsayer with unwanted advice.
Telly Leung also showed off his diversity playing three very different parts with the same degree of finesse. Whether the young boy watching events unfold before his eyes or the young sailor trying to "buy" the pretty lady or the male companion fussing over the shogun, Telly portrayed each character in an utterly believable manner.
For those five admirals that opened up the second act with Lord Abe...though I must admit I felt very sorry for Lord Abe...thank you ever so much for the laughs and giggles! And how did the French Admiral get into those leather pants? More importantly how did he dance in them without splitting the seems?!!!
I am notorious for wanting to give everyone credit but I am having difficulty now trying to determine who performed which parts...you see so many of the cast performed more than one part....and so many parts could be played by more than one cast member. UGH! I would love to give credit to the shogun's wife...I loved the performance but I can't tell which young lady performed that night.
So I suppose I can say this in all honesty and without hesitation....the cast was superb....each and every member...without exception!!!
Paolo Montalban website: http://www.ePaolo.com