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[LITERATURE] Philip Kan Gotanda - Playwright & Provocateur

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  • madchinaman
    Philip Kan Gotanda: Playwright and Provocateur Japanese American National Museum website Eileen Kurahashi http://www.philipkangotanda.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 21, 2006
      Philip Kan Gotanda: Playwright and Provocateur
      Japanese American National Museum website
      Eileen Kurahashi

      "We're all beings in flux, in continual invention and reformation."
      Playwright Philip Kan Gotanda says in the preface to his new
      book. "The artist can…by the simple act of attention make an action
      in the direction of keenness, relevancy and liberation."

      In No More Cherry Blossoms, a collection of four plays set in
      different decades, Gotanda explores the choices and challenges
      Japanese American women face in periods of transition. The works
      display the playwright's flair for dramatizing thought-provoking

      "I was secretly an FOB ["fresh off the boat"]." the character of
      Eiko -- a Japanese American female -- says in The Wind Cries
      Mary. "When I made fun of others I was really making fun of
      myself. You hated me? I hated me more."

      Set in 1968, The Wind Cries Mary was inspired by the work of Henrik
      Ibsen. Gotanda says he adapted Ibsen's Hedda Gabler "to explore the
      social restraints imposed on an Asian American woman born into the
      world as an ‘oriental' just as the world was moving toward the new
      idea of being a liberated Asian American woman." The play offers a
      brutal look at contemporary issues. When asked about the
      psychological and physical violence in the play, Gotanda
      says, "Violence is inherent in the situations. After all, we are
      ultimately capable of anything. That's what makes us human."

      Also evocative in The Wind Cries Mary, Gotanda's "favorite play for
      now," is his use of music. "I'd been wanting to do something about
      the 60's using all my favorite music. And so I did. Lots of Cream,
      Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Them." Using iconic music to set the
      tone, Gotanda shades character and personality, and demonstrates
      conflict in a complex, rewarding work.

      "You think because I don't talk all the time, I'm looking down at
      you," the character of Hideo in Sisters Matsumoto remarks. "Maybe
      it's got nothing to do with you. Maybe my silence is not silence at
      all but an angry shout I have to keep locked up inside. I was a
      good son. I did what my parents asked me to do."

      In Sisters Matsumoto, Gotanda explores the subject of "class" within
      the postwar Japanese American community. Lead characters Grace, Chiz
      and Rose, who were accustomed to wealth and community standing,
      discover their beloved father had been cheated out of his farm
      during the war and try to cope with their new circumstances.

      "(Socioeconomic status) is something people sometimes overlook,
      focusing on race as the only factor," Gotanda says. He also notes
      that cultural differences also lead audiences to react in widely
      varying ways to his works.

      Gotanda recounts how "in Boston, a Jewish man, said that his family
      would never be so unresponsive and unemotional as the characters
      were to the events of the day in Sisters Matsumoto." As a writer of
      Japanese American stories Gotanda says he "struggles with the fact
      that many times an audience can perceive as bland, without
      commitment and boring a Japanese American response to a

      "As far as I was concerned the sisters were bleeding all over the
      stage," says Gotanda.

      Gotanda dedicates another featured play, The Ballad of Yachiyo, set
      in 1919 rural Hawaii, to the memory of his aunt. Yachiyo Gotanda,
      who lived from 1902 to 1919, was a relative whom his father never
      spoke about. In the play, the character of Yachiyo comes of age and
      falls in love with a skillful but alcoholic potter who is married
      and dependent on his wife. Gotanda uses the arduous process of
      pottery making – preparinng the clay, the failed pots, building the
      right kiln, the intense fire as a dramatic metaphor.

      As a creative talent who has worked in many art forms -- including
      pottery -- Gotanda strives to keep an open mind about the ways in
      which he finds inspiration.

      "What I try to do is get up each day and give my body the chance to
      speak." Gotanda writes in No More Cherry Blossoms.

      Through his plays, films, spoken word, and performances, Gotanda
      speaks powerfully -- and has earned a well-deserved place in the
      international world of theatre.
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