With the new revised revival of Flower Drum Song on Broadway, there has been a lot of talk about Asian-American identity in the theatre. While David Henry Hwang's new book gives a different spin to the cute and sweet Rodgers and Hammerstein story, Japanese American playwright Philip Kan Gotanda has taken the dark and tragic Hedda Gabler and transformed it into a story of Asians struggling to understand who they are while the turbulent '60's rage around them.
Entitled The Wind Cries Mary, the world premiere drama begins performances Oct. 19 at San Jose Repertory Theatre. Tony nominee Eric Simonson (The Song of Jacob Zulu, Work Song) directs the play through Nov. 17 with a press opening on Oct. 25.
When San Jose Rep first commissioned Gotanda for a play, the author of Sisters Matsumoto and Ballad of Yachiyo was hot to adapt Lulu or Woyzek. When the theatre's artistic director Timothy Near suggested Hedda Gabler, he initially balked. But then, as he was searching for a way to explore his interest in 1960's history, he came back to Ibsen's classic drama of a woman too proud and too intelligent to fit in with the rules of her society and her lame excuse for a husband.
"I was interested in writing about individuals caught in this time in history, the cultural turning point when Oriental became Asian...I was intrigued by these people pulled in two directions," Gotanda said.
Gotanda, who took notes throughout the Ibsen text and transferred the major plot points to Mary, is fairly faithful to the original play. Eiko is a strong and haughty Japanese-American woman just returned from her honeymoon with her Caucasian husband Raymond, a scholar seeking a teaching position at San Jose State. Into their rather staid existence returns Miles Katayama, a rival scholar and author whose drug use and life on a commune makes him controversial and whose new book marks him as a genius. Unfortunately, Miles is also a past lover of Eiko's and even as Asian Americans riot on the campus around them, the two find love and failure will kill them both. Throughout the play Eiko makes reference to a Samurai sword left to her by her grandmother, including the proper way a warrior uses the weapon to kill himself. The title, incidentally, comes from a Jimmy Hendrix song. Gotanda favors the choice of Hendrix for two reasons. There is the story of the rock musician's life, as he had to leave America to have his talent appreciated without issues of race creeping in. The song also contains a line that underlines the tragedy of the play: "Somewhere a queen is weeping."
Playing the weeping queen Eiko is Tess Lina, a veteran of the Public Theatre's Dogeaters and Sir Peter Hall's Tantalus. Her former lover Miles is Stan Egi (Sisters Matsumoto, Broadway's Anything Goes) and her husband Raymond is Thomas Vincent Kelly. Also in the cast are Joy Carlin as Auntie Gladys, Allison Sie as Rachel Auwinger and Sab Shimono (Broadway's Mame, Pacific Overtures) as Dr. Nakade.
San Jose Repertory Theatre is located at 101 Paseo de San Antonio between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. For reservations, call (408) 367-7255. San Jose Repertory Theatre is on the web at http://www.sjrep.com.
— By Christine Ehren