VOL. 23 - NO. 22
JUN 17 - 24, 2018
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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: “Sisters Matsumoto” focuses on an important moment of American history

Apr 07, 2017
by Jan Miller
Center REPertory Company’s production of “Sisters Matsumoto,” currently showing through April 29 at the Lesher Center for the Arts (1601 Civic Drive) in downtown Walnut Creek, CA., is an interesting, delicate story about a Japanese American family who returns home from the World War II internment camps to grapple with lost opportunities, new beginnings, and trying to find the answer to a well-kept secret from the past.

Mina Morita directs this touching tale of strength and survival. Set in 1945, acclaimed Berkeley playwright Philip Kan Gotanda's 1999 drama focuses on the return of three sisters to their family farm after their formerly prosperous father died in the internment camp. The father remains a major presence through the effect his personality and drive (through his initial American business success) has on the next generation. The mother seems to have passed away leaving scarcely a trace behind. The farm is in ruins, and the three very different sisters have to figure out where to go from here. Memories of the camp and their father's death there are uppermost in their minds as they return to the family farm to pick up the pieces, where they encounter constant reminders of their lives growing up in a close-knit family in Stockton, Calif. Loving memories and sad ones are interwoven in an often poignant, sometimes harsh recollection of who they were and their present place in a universe they once believed they inhabited as equal American dreamers. But memories play tricks and so, sometimes, do fathers, it seems, when family skeletons are exhumed and family secrets start to surface. Xenophobia and racial profiling, subjects that had no remembered relevance in their entitled years, rise up to haunt their post-war hopes and dreams.

The death of the father is very much an emotional presence in the new household. The one bit of life changing shock is the uncovering of an action taken by the family patriarch before his death which affects everyone's future but which he never revealed.

The dutiful eldest daughter Grace (Keiko Shimosato Carreiro) struggles to bring back the family's dignity and remembered harmony, though too many shadows stand in the way. Grace considers herself the head of the family, and no one really challenges her on this. The two elder, married sisters seek a suitable husband for Rose (Carina Lastimosa) before she hits 28. Rose is in mourning for her betrothed, who volunteered for the suicide squad manned by Japanese Americans motivated to prove their intense loyalty to their adopted country by fighting in the front lines against their country of origin.

Grace appears to have little respect for Hideo (Ogie Zulueta), her scholarly conservative husband, whose dream is to publish a newspaper, but who seems ill-fitted to this environment. Middle sister Chiz (Melissa Locsin), the most Americanized of the sisters, is married to Bola (Tasi Alabastro), a loud, colorful Hawaiian physician who is full of fun but doesn't quite get the family business. All these characters are preparing to build new lives to replace those forcibly disrupted by the internment and the confiscation or forced sale of their property, beginning by reviving the homestead farm as a going agricultural concern.

Then there's Henry (Alexander M. Lydon), an old friend from the past whom the girls remember as "the ringworm kid" from his bout with that embarrassing disease, and the villain, Mr. Hersham (Colin Thomson), a possible double-crossing American friend of the late Mr. Matsumoto and his family. His scenes are somewhat awkward as it makes one wonder how the Matsumotos could have lived with such a person, and yet still grant him the forgiveness he desires. Therein lies a good part of the tale.

The sisters and their lives are fuel for fascinating speculation, and the cruel internment policy whereby America singled out some of its citizens as potential traitors and imprisoned innocents for the crimes they might commit is one of those dramatic moments where our nation's ideas and practices conflict in the most illuminating way. At its conclusion there’s a bit of a storybook ending, offering a promising future as the Sisters Matsumoto begin to rebuild their lives as Americans.

Andrea Bechert' scenic design is wonderful, and blends beautifully with an idealized homestead glowing offered by Kurt Landisman's lighting, which somehow offers a glimpse of warmth and hope. Ironically, it is at odds with the text of the bleak and battered reality that makes the sisters' homecoming so painful. The Costume Design by Maggi Yule is spot-on for this postwar period.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the executive order that sent 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent to internment camps around the country, which makes for perfect timing to see “Sisters Matsumoto.” For tickets or more information about "Sisters Matsumoto" please visit www.CenterREP or or phone (925) 943-7469.

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Pictured Left to Right: Ogie Zulueta, Carina Lastimosa


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