"Voices From Okinawa" is a revealing but dramatically underwhelming ode to a dying civilization. Scripter Jon Shirota offers a poignant exposition, highlighting the erosion of the island's historic lands and culture, caught between the competing agendas of Japanese rule and a 60-year U.S. military occupation.
“Voices From Okinawa” is a revealing but dramatically underwhelming ode to a dying civilization. Scripter Jon Shirota offers a poignant exposition, highlighting the erosion of the island’s historic lands and culture, caught between the competing agendas of Japanese rule and a 60-year U.S. military occupation. An engaging eight-member ensemble adequately project the highlights of Shirota’s concerns but are not provided with enough material for significant character interaction and evolution. Helmer Tim Dang’s appealing, stylized staging manages to mitigate this legiter’s thematic inadequacies.Shirota’s alter ego is Kama (Joseph Kim), a one-quarter Okinawan American who is working on the island as an English teacher in a school for young adults. Kama’s insistence that each of his students make “speeches” in English provides a platform for the scripter’s agenda. Hip-talking Hitoshi (Atsushi Hirata) and his girl friend Harue (Teruko Kataoka) demonstrate the comical effect of American television on the psyche of Okinawan youth. Barber Yasunobu (Kotaro Watanabe) and his friend Takeshi (Taishi Mizuno) relate the realities of being second-class citizens in their own homeland. The dark side of American occupation is harrowingly revealed by Namiye (Mari Ueda) as she details the brutal rape inflicted on her by a U.S. soldier. In a sumptuous portrayal by TV and stage vet Amy Hill, the character of Kama’s elderly, spiritually transcendent grandaunt, Obaa-San, is a personification of Okinawa’s ancient traditions. Hill provides compelling veracity to Shirota’s agenda as Obaa-San rails against the oppression of the Japanese, the opportunism of the Americans and the declining interest of her own people. She underscores her island’s inherent helplessness as she pleads with Kama to save her pristine sugarcane lands from the land-devouring agenda of the U.S. military. Kim is quite effective as Kama, offering an appealing determination but inherent social awkwardness as he attempts to help his aunt, educate his students and impress the school’s comely but skeptical principal Keiko (Sachiko Hayashi). He realistically projects Kama’s ambivalence when he realizes he could make a lot of money by leasing Obaa-San’s lands to the Americans. This staging of “Voices From Okinawa” offers a sketch of its potential. Shirota could elevate this work to the next level by fleshing out his characters and allowing them to grow while still illuminating the tribulations of his ancient homeland. Complementing the production’s themes are the mood-enhancing designs of Mina Kinukawa (sets), Soojin Lee (costumes), Guido Girardi (lighting) and Dave Iwataki (sound).