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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 28, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 39
Love and war
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Love and war

Book-It looks at a sad historical event through a child's eyes

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET
BOOK-IT REPERTORY THEATRE
Through October 21


Book-It's latest production is a moving and honorable adaptation of Jamie Ford's novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Adapter/director Annie Lareau cooks up a fittingly bittersweet tone throughout in this home-grown story of a Chinese boy and Japanese girl who find puppy love on the eve of the World War II internment program.

Henry (Jose Abaoag) and Keiko (Stephanie Kim) are 11-year-old classmates as the story begins. Henry's old-school Chinese father hates the Japanese for what they did to his home village - an animosity he has carried to his new country as well - so Henry doesn't dare tell him of his budding friendship with the girl. But curiosity and a fairness of heart prompt Henry to find out more about his Japanese neighbors in Seattle's International District.

The book is a sprawling tale involving dozens of people, unfolding the plight of the Japanese and Henry's growing despair at being unable to stop the injustice being perpetrated on them by the U.S. government. The play does a pretty good job of honing the tale down to a split-time-sharing between young Henry and an older, newly widowed Henry (Stan Asis) with a grown son of his own (Moses Yim). Still, there is a cast of 26!

In lots of sometimes very brief scenes, we go back and forth in time, as the elder Henry hears about a treasure trove in the basement of the Panama Hotel, where Japanese internees had stashed their belongings hoping to retrieve them after the war. Henry is looking for something specific, although it takes more than half the play to find out what it is.

We do know it involves Keiko and her family, and we are treated to a tender retelling of their friendship and the support of a busker saxophonist (the talented Marcel Davis) who helps Henry deal with the rich-boy bully who picks on Japanese and Chinese kids alike. We see Henry wearing an 'I Am Chinese' button, emphasizing his heritage so he wouldn't be targeted as un-American like those of Japanese descent - an idea of his father's that eventually seems like a really good one.

Once Keiko's family is relocated, an enchanting interplay with a brusque school cafeteria lady (a sweet-and-sour Marianne Owen) helps Henry visit Keiko in the desolation of the camp. Their shared love of jazz and a special record link the young and old Henrys and the Panama Hotel. We know he and Keiko lose touch after that and we hope throughout the whole play that they will find each other again.

There are many well-done performances throughout - including an energetic Sydney Andrews as the Caucasian girl who is engaged to Henry's son, Matt Fulbright as the nasty bully, and Kathy Hsieh as Henry's mother. But the three principals - Abaoag, Kim, and Asis - hold the story together beautifully and in heart-tugging fashion.

While Lareau could have found ways to shorten the fairly long evening, this is an elegant production, thanks to a spare set design using hanging pictures by Carey Wong, understated but attractive costuming by Jocelyne Fowler, spot-focused lighting by Andrew D. Smith, and a quietly additive sound design by Kevin Heard.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a wonderful play that even very young children, perhaps as young as six if able to sit still, can enjoy and learn from. For more information, go to www.book-it.org or call (206) 216-0833.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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