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The year is 1968, and amidst all the turmoil, a young woman, torn between tradition and innovation, tries to find herself while challenging those around her and singing along to Jimi Hendrix.
The Wind Cries Mary, written by Philip Kan Gotanda, directed by Lisa Peterson and loosely based on Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler, focuses on gender and race, particularly the Asian-American woman. Set in San Francisco in 1968, a time of turmoil and questions, heightened by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, the story takes place in the home of a headstrong Japanese woman named Eiko who is still torn between tradition and innovation during a time of unification among Asian Americans coming together as their ethnic consciousness emerges. She has just arrived home from her honeymoon in Japan with her Caucasian husband, Raymond, complaining about Japan’s demeaning culture where a subservient woman always serves the men. Eiko behaves more American than her husband who clings to clichéd Japanese customs such as drinking tea and wearing a kimono.
Raymond applies for a professor position at the local university, believing that he is guaranteed the job. Raymond’s colleague, Dr. Nakada, visits and reveals that Raymond now has stiff competition in his old rival, a reformed Japanese drug addict named Miles who is involved with revolutionary research and has written a book and a manuscript. They are also visited by Miles’s half Caucasion/half Asian assistant and girlfriend, Rachel, who left her husband and children to be with Miles and is convinced to save him from drugs as well as protect him from a woman called Mary who once almost destroyed him.
Once Miles visits their home, it is evident that Eiko is Mary. Eiko and Miles were once deeply in love but tangled up in a destructive union of drugs and rock ‘n roll. Eiko plays Rachel against Miles as she provokes him to get high with Raymond while Eiko plays with a Samurai sword for women. Once intoxicated, Miles lectures that of all the minorities, Asian-Americans are not the most important in terms of civil rights, for there exist no assassinations of any Asian leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. On a mission of violence and passion, the men leave to attend an Asian protest.
The women wait all night, and when Raymond finally arrives, he reveals to Eiko that amid the chaos of the protest, he secretly got a hold of Miles’ revolutionary manuscript, which is the object of Raymond’s jealousy toward his supposed rival. When Miles returns, he tells Rachel that he destroyed the manuscript and that they can no longer be together despite their research and love. After she leaves, Miles confides in Eiko that he lost the manuscript and he wishes to kill himself. Instead of handing back the manuscript, Eiko gives him her sword and bids him a beautiful death. When he leaves, she burns his manuscript, later claiming to Raymond that she did it for him. Miles dies declaring his martyrdom for the Asian-American movement.
In the last act, Eiko reluctantly confesses that she is pregnant, and Raymond is thrilled. He is issued the professor position, and he is on the path of reconstructing Miles’s manuscript with Rachel. For Eiko, however, everything is falling apart. In addition to her crumbling sense of identity, she is blackmailed by Dr. Nakada, who suspects she had something to do with Miles’s death. In a state of calm desperation, she commits suicide in the style of the samurai.
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By Colleen Beck
The performance invites the audience to sit back, relax, and to consider the role of Asian Americans in the 1960s, as well as the present day. As I watched the performance, I couldn’t help but notice the intent feeling among those in the audience, both the young and the old. Previously, I had only attended one actual theatre performance, and I enjoyed it thoroughly for its music and dance. This performance, however, had a different message to portray and as such, its format was much different than what I had expected but was a worthwhile endeavor for theatre patrons with great interest in the ‘60s.
The performance is powerful and the message is important. We all search to find our place as humans; this is one of our innate natures. It is the story, enriched by the setting and the characters, that captivates the audience’s attention. Viewers of the performance may experience certain thoughts while watching the production such as: “Sometimes I walk in Eiko’s shoes, in Rachel’s at other times, and probably in Raymond’s shoes as well.” I found that even I, who has only experienced the ‘60s through a textbook and only now is beginning to learn about the Asian American community, could find some aspect of the play to which I could relate.
Jodi Long (Eiko Hanabi) gave an impressive performance during Wednesday night’s premiere showing. During the uproarious 1960s when people were challenging old traditions, Eiko remains on the outside, even though she has spent years trying to identify with Americans. The moment has come, but she just watches it pass by. Perhaps this is what accounts for her wounded, yet commanding attitude that leads her to envy, and later destroy, those who have taken the moment and made it into something more. In her acting, Long is vivid, and the audience is confirmed that she takes this performance to heart. “Here is a woman who is stuck between a rock and a hard place, between her father and her husband,” Long says of her character Eiko, and as such brilliantly portrays this characteristic throughout the performance.
The same level of performance is exhibited by Kevin Han Yee (Miles). Miles is the former lover of Eiko and currently is writing a manuscript on the changing tides of race relations, particularly Asian Americans, during the 1960s. It is his passion for change that Eiko tries to crush. If she can’t have this passion, why should he?
Immediately following the two hour and twenty minute performance, all talk was directed towards the actors and the story at the gala reception. Many in the audience felt the same impression. “A very provocative, even disturbing, piece of theatre. A stunning performance by the lead actor!” remarked Willard Manus from lively-arts.com. Others around agreed. Talk then led to specific scenes, especially those within the second act of the performance. Terry Sanders, a filmmaker, exclaimed, “It is always a privilege to see a new play. The second act really draws you in…it was very powerful.”
Overall, the play successfully translates from the 1890 drama by Isben into the activities of the 1960s. Yet the current powerful performance seems to suggest something else. The storyline and plot points relate well to the socially active decade, and the ambition of challenging traditions (while still trying to maintain fundamental values) would probably be found in many households during this time. So what makes it work? Actor George Takei (Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek), explains “‘Hedda Gabler seems like it was inspired by The Wind Cries Mary” – and perhaps The Wind Cries Mary will inspire many more.
Date Posted: 2/6/2004