Monday, February 20, 2017

Allegiance

This Broadway musical about the Japanese internment was beautifully sung and acted. The sight of people chanting "Resist" in the face of prejudice and wartime paranoia is very timely, and I thank George Takei for pushing this message so we never forget. It's also so refreshing to see a cast of mostly Asian Americans instead of more Hollywood whitewashing. Too bad that this show was not successful against Hamilton. It is not depressing but rather uplifting, with a touching personal story of redemption and forgiveness.

George Takei plays WWII vet Sammy Kimura in the present day, as well as Sammy's grandfather in the past. The flashback introduces us to the family during a Japanese summer festival where they tie wishes to a tree, so that the wind will blow them away and grant the wishes. The song conveys their hopes and dreams for the future, and is bittersweet in light of what the war has in store for them. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Sammy and his friends try to enlist, but are rejected as "enemy aliens." Sammy's father argues not to make trouble or draw attention to themselves, that nothing can be done about the rising anti-Japanese sentiment.


After they are forced on trains and sent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Sammy's grandfather tells them to adopt an attitude of gaman, enduring the unbearable with dignity. They try to do so, but camp life is hard, with dust storms, freezing weather, and no medical supplies allowed for the internees. However, Sammy makes friends with a white nurse named Hannah; he persuades her to give him cough syrup for this grandfather and bodybags to use as bedding that won't attract fleas. Meanwhile, Sammy's older sister Kei meets Frankie, an internee whose parents were arrested in San Francisco. He hasn't heard from them since, and he is less willing to be passive and submissive. A conflict eventually develops between Sammy and Frankie, as they see different, parallel ways to save their families; Sammy believes that joining the army will prove Japanese loyalty and free all the internees, while Frankie believes in burning his draft card and demanding the release of all the internees. They both feel they are fighting for American ideals and principles, but Sammy views Frankie as a coward unwilling to fight and sacrifice.

I was surprised and happy that the story does not focus solely on Sammy and Frankie's different ideas of patriotism. The female characters have important roles too, particularly Kei; because their mother died giving birth to Sammy, Kei had to grow up quickly and raise her younger brother. She still feels protective toward him but seeks a new identity and purpose for herself. She finds it not simply in her romance with Frankie, but also in his cause. She leads the other camp women in letter writing campaigns, and she persuades Hannah to help the injured Frankie. Together they sing a song about becoming stronger and braver due to the war. Unfortunately, during a scuffle with a guard, Hannah is shot, and Sammy only learns about this after the war when he returns home. I'm glad that the writers know that a wartime story does not mean women became unimportant (I still resent the Dawn of the Apes movie for that oversight).

There is also a real-life character named Mike Masaoka, a national spokesman who negotiates on behalf of the internees with Washington D.C. However, he often issues apologist statements stating how the "evacuees" will comply and prove their loyalty to America. He also lobbies to allow the internees to serve in the war to die and further prove their loyalty. He was also behind a questionnaire asking the internees to swear allegiance to the United States and to serve in the war. However Masaoka is not portrayed as the villain of the show; we learn he is trying to protect his kinsman from worse fates like deportation and sterilization. He's a controversial figure, insisting that after the war, he continued to fight for citizenship and for reparations for the internment.

It was a great show, and I enjoyed all the songs.

No comments: