I'll admit it. When I heard Community Asian Theater of the
Sierra was staging "Teahouse of the August Moon," I was doubtful.
I've never liked the corny 1956 movie, which starred a miscast
Marlon Brando in "yellowface" makeup, playing an Asian
But the original Broadway play -- rarely staged these days --
won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. As it turns out, the old
script still has a lot going for
The story begins with a cagey guy named Sakini, a local
translator for the Occupation Forces, who reminds the audience that
the Americans were not the first to conquer Okinawa.
"We have honor to be subjugated in 14th Century by
Chinese pirates. In the 16th Century by English
Missionaries. In 18th Century by a Japanese warlord. And
in 20th century by American Marines. Hooyaa!"
This impish but accurate take on history leads into comedy
through culture clash, as the American GIs and the Japanese
villagers awkwardly learn each other's customs, and find ways to
get along. One scene involves a trip by Jeep to a
rural village. To the consternation of an American officer, Sakini
gradually packs the Jeep, first with an old lady, then with three
more family members, parcels, and lastly a pygmy goat. The audience
buzzes with delight as the cute, blinking animal is led
Captain Fisby: "No, no!"
Sakini: "Everybody here, boss. Goat got no children. Goat is
unmarried lady goat."
Captain Fisby: "Alright, alright, uh, we've got to get started
or we'll never get off the ground."
Highly theatrical moments like this, blended with the humor
that naturally accrues as the two sides iron out the cultural
kinks, make "Teahouse" an unusually humane and very funny show.
What's more, the Asian American actors in this production have been
coached for two months, and deliver their lines in Japanese.
"Teahouse of the August Moon" remains a period piece, but this
marvelously detailed and most enjoyable production demonstrates the
play deserves a fresh look. Kudos to Community Asian Theater of the
Sierra for bringing it back from obscurity.