It is time, once again, to expose one of the Tacoma theater scene’s best kept secrets – Dukesbay Theater.
This more than intimate theatre sports fewer than 75 seats in a classroom-sized space which is filled with first-rate theatrical equipment, an eager production staff and excellent actors.
Dukesbay’s mission is to promote independent theatre in Tacoma and to give a voice to artists of all ethnicities.
Their current production of Tea by Velina Hasu Houston is an example of the powerful theater experiences offered by Dukesbay.
Tea is the story of five World War II Japanese war brides, whose husbands remained in the army after the war was over. They married their young Japanese sweethearts and transported them to the United States where the women became U.S. citizens but kept the better part of their traditional upbringing.
The tale is of the ostracizing they endured from the red-necked citizens of the Kansas small town in which they all settled.
These five women represent the thousands of Japanese newly-weds who made their way across the waters to a new life with their new husbands and the men’s families. Many may have made the transition from the Asian to the Causation world with few problems; most did not. Houston tells us of some of those for whom the American Dream turned into a nightmare.
The story unfolds on a fragmented set which shows the framing structure of a pitched-roof house compete with raised veranda entrance-way, cutoff from the living room by three rice-paper covered sliding doors which make a wall to the steps down into the living room showing the simple complexity of the Asian household with clean lines and minimum furnishings, which include the centerpiece of the low table and cushions at which the ladies take tea – as one of the women says, “Tea brings everything into balance.”
Director Randy Clark has chosen an excellent cast to play out the lives of the four living women and their deceased landsman who appears on stage to tell us the true story leading up to her suicide. This is a compelling story, brilliantly told with moving dialogue, splendid direction and a worthy cast.
Eloisa Cardona appears as Himiko Hamilton, the late wife of her Billy, with whom she fell in love during his tour of duty in Japan. Cardona exudes the anguish of Himiko as she tells her story of love lost and never quite re-found after the upheaval of her life by moving to America with her daughter. Cardona shows the audience every aspect of the wronged woman from the beginning of her light-hearted love story to the end of her life. The intensity of the actor’s performance is stirring.
Susan Mayeno plays Setsuko Banks, the most traditional of the tea set. Mayeno is flawless in her performance as the self-appointed matron who strives to keep the clan together. Hers has been a relatively easy transformation to American even though her G.I. is black, he seems to be better accepted by the citizenry than his wife, thus making life easier for her as she dolts on him.
Joy Misako St. Germain as Teruko MacKenzie runs a close second to Setsuko’s dream come true in her marriage to her husband who is from Texas, therefore, completely accepted by the locals. St. Germain shows the audience a Teruko who is forever in love with and loved by her “Sugar Pie.”
Aya Hashiguchi is Atsuko, the rebellious member of the tea party who wishes she wasn’t there. Atsuko considers herself a head above her country mates; she has married a G.I, however, her husband is a Japanese-American so her family is more “pure” then the others; this is very important to Atsuko as she is the head of the local Buddhist chapter and lets no one forget her standing in the community. Hashiguchi exudes understanding for the part.
Kathy Hsieh has the final cup as Chizuye Juarez. Chizuye is the most Americanized of the quintet. She married a Mexican G.I.; love and understanding worked both ways for the couple. However, shortly after returning to the States, Chizuye receives a phone call telling her that her husband was killed in a car accident. The independent woman draws herself up, opens a barber shop and becomes a liberated woman. Hsieh is beautifully effervescent in the role.
During the telling of this story, the actors not only play their own parts, they also play their daughters at a slumber party and do an excellent job of being their husbands on a hunting trip. Hashiguchi is great as her manly counterpart; Mayeno is terrific as the drawling Texan.
Tea continues at Dukesbay Theater at 508 6th Ave. in downtown Tacoma in the Merlino Art Center through November 16 Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tea, with tickets at $10 to $12, which includes coffee, tea and baked goods, is the least expensive 90 minutes of theater in town and well worth the three landing staircase the audience must traverse to get to the acting space.
Tea is not just a story of five almost misplaced war brides; it has many thought-provoking subtle lessons. One of the most beautiful and important is: Don’t wait. Chizuye’s husband told her he would teach her how to built a snowman. When it snowed, he said they had to wait – the snow wasn’t wet enough. They waited and he was killed when the snow was right. Don’t wait until the time is perfect – things are seldom perfect – live life – don’t wait.