Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione
Music and lyrics by Jay Kuo
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Music direction by Matthew Stern
Choreography by Ilyse Robbins
Traditional Japanese dance choreography by Kendyl Yokoyama
The New England Theatre Geek believes that productions about people of color should be critiques by people of color. Allegiance was attended by both Noelani Kamelamela and Kitty Drexel. The editorial response by Kamelamela gives insight into personal histories of the Japanese-American internment camps. Drexel gives a performance critique. If a story doesn’t include us at all levels then it isn’t really about us.
Response by Noelani Kamelamela
(Boston, MA) After bringing an acclaimed version of Kander & Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys to Boston last year, Speakeasy Stage Company presents Allegiance, a two hour long musical that explores the unjust imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the US at the tail end of World War II. It is important for us to tell these stories, not stories of victory, but tales of survival in difficult circumstances. Ignorance, more than the steady drumbeat of white supremacy, separates people far more than a border wall ever can.
My mother’s mother was Japanese and she was also American. She married my grandfather, a Hawaiian, in 1932 at a time when most Japanese women did not marry outside of their own race. By the time the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7th, 1941 she was surrounded by a dark-skinned, clearly local family that considered her one of their own. Like the majority of Japanese Americans in the Hawaiian Islands, she was not taken to Honouliuli or any other internment camp. My grandmother was proud of being Japanese, but she took pains at the time to not appear “too Japanese” so she could remain with her family.
I learned about the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans not through formal education, but from family members and people in my community. I internalized these lessons because it was part of my heritage as a person of mixed ethnicities. When I arrived in Boston years ago, I went through a lot of culture shock and one of the mystifying facts I faced was that so few American white folks knew anything about the histories of people of color. Not only that, but so few people of color here knew anything about the histories of people not of their own race.
Right now more people have the opportunity to learn about internment, detainment and the deportation of American citizens thanks to the increasing connectedness of our lives online. Although we have the ability to help our fellow Americans, this potential to assist is rarely fully realized possibly due to our need to retreat into echo chambers and return to our own comforting, soothing, familiar communities when we identify traumatic circumstances. Theatre provides a vehicle through which audiences may experience injustice and consider their own culpability and responsibility as human beings.
As the Kimura family becomes more than just ‘Japs’ onstage, an audience may feel a deep connection to a family forced out of their homes and into a limbo life where they can petition for help, but even freedom won’t feel like freedom anymore. Inventive staging, choreography and blocking transforms the relatively small and spare space into multiple settings while also creating the illusion that there are far more actors moving on the set. Tyler Simahk (Frank Suzuki) is a fiery, pleasant counterpoint to the gentle, loving center of the show Grace Yoo (Kei Kimura). Allegiance challenges the audience, but also comforts the audience with familiar music of the 1940s and the tender embraces of a family called upon to support each other in extraordinary times.
Review by Kitty Drexel
Allegiance is about the internment of Japanese Americans. Hitler had his WWII concentration camps and we had ours: In 1942, President Roosevelt opened 10 internment camps where Japanese-Americans were shipped like cattle to live in inhumane conditions. They weren’t sent there to die necessarily but, if they did, Roosevelt wasn’t going to mind. Meanwhile German-American “Krauts” were harassed but otherwise left alone. Discrimination against Jewish-Americans was still socially acceptable. The Japanese internment camps weren’t to protest the War. They were to punish “the other” living on US soil.
Allegiance is a coming of age story inspired by the experiences of George Takei. In it, the Kimura family is evicted to Heart Mountain Relocation Center. The In the present day, veteran Sam Kimura (Gary Thomas Ng) remembers the events that split his family in half. Memory brings the audience to 1941 as the Kimora family takes the train to Heart Mountain. Young Sammy (Sam Tanabe) is determined to prove his loyalty to the US. Kei Kimura (Grace Yoo) is the glue that holds her family together. Father Tatsuo (Ron Domingo) holds fast to honor. Ojii-Chan (Gary Thomas Ng playing double duty) remembers the past in order to protect the future. They are depicted with a community of survivors and violent white people .
SpeakEasy creates beautiful theatre. This is not that. Allegiance has some dedicated performances, but it’s not one of SpeakEasy’s best. The scenic design reminds one of a high school production. The sound design, particularly the micing, was roughshod. The cast was musically underpitch all afternoon. I suspect it’s because they couldn’t hear the band which was slightly ahead of the vocalists during the first act.
Grace Yoo has chemistry with whomever she shares a stage. Her performance as Kei sparkles despite the ineffective design elements. Similarly, Gary Thomas Ng lights the stage as Ojii-Chan. Ron Domingo is a severe but loving patriarch. Michael Hisamoto is history’s fall guy as Mike Masaoka. Masaoka attempted dignity for his people while failing epically. Hisamoto carries the role respectfully.
The choreography by Ilyse Robbins succeeds through ¾ of the production. At times, the cast can’t keep up with the moves. Musical numbers such as “Resist,” “Get In the Game,” and “Paradise” utilise the best of the cast’s talents. Kendyl Yokoyama’s traditional Japanese dance choreography was beautiful. It’s a shame her work didn’t receive more stage time.
Sam Tanabe’s violent fight direction was scene appropriate. The simulated karate was unintentionally comical. Most importantly, it all appeared safe.
There is a note from Takei about the his experiences in an internment camp in the program. He compares the current vilification of Muslim-Americans to the then discrimination of Japanese-Americans. I’ll go even further to state that Trump’s current attack on undocumented and documented immigrants is even more vicious than his attack on Muslims. He is deporting citizens while citing a weak border. His attacks on peaceful citizens are to create purpose for an unnecessary wall. He’d rather be popular than a halfway decent politician.