Asian Theatre Journal 1.1 (2002) 248-249
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Edward Sakamoto is the much-celebrated author of plays depicting Asian-Hawaiian experience. His vantage point is often the view from the islands. The characters in Sakamoto's plays face double relocation: first to Hawai'i, then to the mainland. Whether imagined or real, moving to the mainland makes Sakamoto's characters confront haole (white) culture and the familial and community impact of abandoning their unique form of Pidgin English. Leaving is the thematic crisis that creates the fault line in Sakamoto's characters' lives. When Manny in A'ala Park (1984) says, "I gotta get out" (p. 44), he is speaking for a whole generation of Asian-Hawaiians looking to create a future. While the path may be clear, the risk and the cost are not.
Hyphenated identity--whether Asian-Hawaiian and/or Asian-American--is certainly an essential ideological concern of these plays. Yet I would not characterize any of them as being about identity in the same way as the great Asian-American plays Yankee Dawg You Die (1989) by Philip Gotanda or Tea (1983) by Velina Hasu Houston. A'ala Park, the first play in the collection, is a memory play in which the fifty-year-old Manny revisits the crucial days of his youth before leaving for the mainland. There is an overwhelming sense of bitter loss underscored by the older Manny as a ghostlike figure, visible only to the audience, returning to the scene of his unrequited desires on the eve of Hawai'i's statehood.
Stew Rice (1987) is a coming of age drama for three young men on their way from high school to college. Popular music defines the moods and marks the passage of time. Shima, Zippy, and Lee face the loss of their boyhood friendship as life pulls them in different directions. Shima and Lee make it to the mainland, first for college and then for the rest of their lives, while Zippy stays in Hawai'i. Act II is a reunion twenty years later. Sex, language, and success (or not) are still the guys' subjects. There is no dramatic closure here; nor should there be. After the grown men try to replicate their old camaraderie on an unsuccessful crabbing trip, the tensions about who they've become explode. Zippy rejects his friends out of an urgent need to defend his having stayed home. Lee rejects Zippy's claim that he wanted to stay in Hawai'i and throws the truth in his face. Only Shima tries to strike a balance between how he knew his friends in the past with how they are in the present. But even this attempt is ambivalent: "I see our lives as a movie, but we can't cut and splice and edit to make perfect life, can we?" (p. 126).
Aloha Las Vegas (1992) takes place in a Honolulu home where characters come and go without much change in their lives. Like the other plays in this volume, Aloha Las Vegas can be read as a realist narrative with local color. In his introduction, Dennis Carroll rightly calls Aloha Sakamoto's most Chekhovian play, comparing its dramatic themes of leave-taking, home, and unrequited [End Page 248] desires to those of Chekhov. The depressed Hawaiian economy is the backdrop to these lives. But the cost of success--loss of culture, family, home, and community--is an even greater factor in Sakamoto's characters' lives.
Readers should not confuse Sakamoto's simple language and plot devices with the depth of content in these plays. While the themes of his plays may be universal, the stories themselves are always specific and culture bound. Add to this the production history of these plays at theatres such as Kumu Kahua Theatre with Asian-American protagonists and actors and a different picture emerges. The plays tell what it means to live in a specific time and place as an Asian-American and...