World Premiere of Valley of the Heart, produced by San Jose Stage company, in partnership with El Teatro Campesino, is a treat for theater-goers at many levels. Directed and produced by internationally known playwright, Luis Valdez, the play gently wraps a lesson in diversity, inside a love story. The play is rooted in multi-ethnic Santa Clara Valley and San Jose Mercury News has aptly declared it a “multicultural touchstone”. What makes the play truly remarkable is that the multicultural saga of immigrants struggling with cultural confusion and identify, dealing with xenophobia and racism, emerges in the context of not only specific time and geographic location, but in a specific historical context.
Even as it is a history lesson for the young, this is a memory play for a generation that lived through hell of World War II. In history, it is always a majority that pays a hefty price for the action of the few. On December 7th, USA was attacked by naval and air forces of Japan, setting off a series of events that resulted in casualties and heartache to people in both countries. Following Pearl Harbor attack, US and UK declared war on Japan. Shortly thereafter, an Executive Order issued by President Roosevelt authorizing Japanese-American citizens to be rounded up and placed in “relocation centers”, turned life upside down for over 120,000 Japanese impacted by the order, approximately 80,000 of whom were US citizens. Overcrowded camps often had no plumbing or heating or cooling facilities, some even lacked appropriate cooking facilities and finally the Detainees were offered to be released only when they pledged allegiance to the United States and agreed to join the army and fight in the war.
One such family, the Yamaguchis, residing in Santa Clara Valley, were fortunate, as fortunes go, and as they are getting uprooted, they made agreement with their neighbors, the Montanos, a Mexican American sharecropper family, who agreed to farm the land and watch their home. But unbeknownst to the elders of the family, two young members of the families are in love and secretly get married. As the play progresses, not only the two lovers, but all members of both families, face deep moral crisis.
“What are you supposed to do, when the world collapses around you?” While the unfairness of it all and the moral outrage provokes tears and soul searching, there is plenty of humor to defuse the tension. Also contrasting the Japanese American experience with the Mexican American experience, and the lasting bonds that emerge, captures the multicultural fabric of the American experience, says the Director. I would add that in the end, unforseen ties are forged because of love, because love transcends all cultural, racial, ethnic, and geographic boundaries.
The cast is strong, and the stage manager, Margaret Kayes has done a fabulous job of depicting homes of two immigrant families, with their diverse lifestyles, and contrasting that with the barebone conditions in the camp. This is a people’s play. It captures the experience of the immigrants, and aren’t we all immigrants here? So deeply it resonates with the people that tickets to the play, now extended to March 13, are selling out fast. Yet another, not-to-miss play of this season. For tickets, go to www.thestage.org .