VOL. 25 - NO. 21
MAY 24 - 31, 2020
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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: The Marsh Berkeley Presents "The Jap Box"

Nov 08, 2019
by Aaron Pewtherer
"So .... I'm half Japanese ... and half regular?" exclaims the performer's bewildered daughter, as quoted saying to her Japanese-American father (and presumably Western mother) upon being introduced to her first sushi meal, and learning her heritage is split between two distinct cultures and histories. And thus begins the performance, told in first-person from writer, performer, and long-time Marsh staff member, David Hirata, weaving general magic tricks, real-time Sudoku and the centerpiece, "The Jap Box" the cringe-worthy, and culturally-insensitive name for a Japanese-derived and seemingly mythical cavernous, rectangular container.

The story weaves between the monologue of reminiscing about the performer's grandparents and family, as told having lived during the unfortunate time of WWII in California of federally-authorized interment of US citizens, that had Japanese heritage, and later the dichotomy of Oriental infatuation by-then Western audiences, where the Asian-themed shows had to be performed by "a white guy from Buffalo in makeup", because, as paraphrased by entertainment companies, "it was difficult to legally hire an Asian performer" during that time. 

Finally, the storyline is seasoned for the audience with personal references by the performer, as he recalls his American upbringing, forgivenly noting that his high-school classmates suggested, as a simple matter of fact, that he "should ask the Asian girl to the prom, because they know she will say yes", and another story about the local magic-store owner, that he should "perform an Asian magic show with Asian magic tricks." As a humorous anecdote, the Chinese writing on the magic props actually say, "it ok to smoke here" as they were made by an uninterested US factory.

For historical context, in 1866, a man from Japan named, Namigoro Sumidagawa, became the first Japanese citizen in over 200 years to receive a passport to leave the country. As part of the, "Imperial Japanese Troupe," he dazzled audiences across Victorian America with exotic stage magic and became a media celebrity. By the time Sumidagawa returned home, his prize trick had been appropriated by American magicians in yellowface and rechristened as the "Jap Box."

The show, currently performing at The Marsh Berkeley (2120 Allston Way) through December 1, premiered at the San Diego International Fringe Festival in June 2018, where it won the festival award for "Outstanding World Premiere Show", billed as part theatrical, part magic show, the story explores illusions of race and identity through the magic of two cultures.

For information or to order tickets visit themarsh.org or call (415) 282-3055 (Monday through Friday, 1:00pm-4:00pm). 

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Photo credit: Aaron Pewtherer


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