By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A white-haired man (indeed, the program will give his character the name “White-Haired Man”) lets a young Asian lady into his condominium. Unless it’s a deluxe apartment. It clearly costs quite a bit. The young Asian lady, who will give a name not her own, clearly doesn’t have quite a bit.
The White-Haired Man went on Craigslist advertising for a certain type of woman, to perform a certain type of act. To say exactly what would spoil one of many surprise in “Nadeshiko,” written by Keiko Green and directed by Kaitlyn McIntyre for Sound Theatre Company. Let me just say that it’s not quite what anyone expects.
Something clandestine and forbidden though. Between the man’s stutters and flusters, and the young lady’s nervous apprehension, that much seems clear. They don’t know how to talk to each other, even if the transaction at hand theoretically simplifies matters. With his money, he can afford not only luxury, but isolation, control, and near-absolute domination of his environment. The young woman cannot. Economic disparity and the baggage that goes along with it make for two of the many things Green wants to talk about in her narrative.
So the first act revolves mostly around how the young woman (played by Maile Wong) navigates the post-2008, post-job economy of the early 21st century. She had a job, but it ended. Like many people, she’s thrown herself onto Craigslist and other online listing agencies to find piecework. And while not all of this work involves sex, a great deal of it does. She compares notes with her cousin Sue (Mi Kang), who’s found her own solutions to turning sex, or the lure of sex, into profit.
But even through internet assignations, essential problems of culture and politics remain. The fundamental dilemma of capitalism — that what you produce is taken away from you, to profit someone else — holds. Even self-employed folks submit to producing, for others, in return for money, which they of course must give up for the goods they need, want, or think they need.
The term “nadeshiko” itself refers to an idealized image of Japanese women, and perhaps an idealized image of Asian women in general: demure, shy, submissive, subservient, giggling behind a hand to avoid showing their teeth and open mouths. And two other trains of thought through the play take other takes on idealization of Asian women.
A character herself called Nadeshiko (Ina Chang), a white-haired woman, Japanese, wanders across the stage, and across other people’s stories, in a spirit form. She’s wisecracking, funny, bold, tough, strong, everything “nadeshiko” does not imply, although of course she just might manifest another idealization, that of the tough but loveable grandparent. She realizes she’s some sort of ghost, but for all her humor, she can’t figure out how to release herself from the Earth. When will she be allowed to leave?
And the third act opens with a kamikaze pilot (Josh Kenji) and one of the young ladies tending to his barracks.
It’s late in World War II. The two young people think Japan will win, but of course, that’s what the government tells them.
Aspects of the first act repeat subtly. As capitalism strips latterday characters of their work, this imperialist society shall strip the young pilot of the most he has to give — his life, of course. And both young women struggle with the unwritten rules of society, bumping up against that which exists, and that which must not be questioned. They must decide on who they are, amidst all the above.
In the end, everyone, even the White-Haired Man, the very picture of privilege, emerges as understandably human. I’ve outlined as best as I can, the evening’s ideologies and intellectual pursuits. I encourage you to go and see the humanness for itself.
“Nadeshiko” runs through May 7th as a presentation of the Sound Theatre Company, at the Center Theatre at Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison Street at Seattle Center. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit soundtheatrecompany.org/2017-season/nadeshiko.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.