Posts Tagged Mia Tagano

“Calligraphy” – Play Review

Playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s “Calligraphy”, currently running at  at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, directed by Leslie Martinson, is a complex family drama that tests dynamic family bonds from multiple angles.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyFirst, there are two cousins, one American, Hiromi (Mia Tagano), daughter of Japanese mother and African American WWII veteran, Eamon (William Thomas Hodgson) and the other, Sayuri (Elizabeth Pan) are dealing with challenges of caring for their respective aging mothers with physical problems ranging from limb fracture to Alzheimer’s to emotional issues like over-dependance. Second, intermingled with these challenges are cultural issues.  Third, while traditional Japanese culture is steeped in family obligations, and generational rules of etiquette mired in feelings of guilt, there is also an overlay of younger generations growing up with vastly different and sometimes Western values. Hiromi is raised by Japanese mother Noriko (Emily Kuroda) in America, albeit with Japanese values, and considers it her filial duty to take care of her mother in old age.  Meanwhile her cousin Sayuri is raised by her Japanese mother Natsuko (Jeanne Sakata) in Japan. Although Natsuko raises Sayuri with strict Japanese values, colored by external influences, Sayuri rebels and pursues Western attire as well as values of independence and freedom.  And finally, these cultural influences collide in interesting ways with individual personalities and temperament of the colorful characters.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyWhen the cousins Hiromi and Sayuri plan to arrange a family reunion of sorts and bring their mothers together after the distance of several  years and different continents, the cultural, generational, relational, and personality collisons occur with a noticeable bang. The two elderly sisters have been bitterly estranged over Noriko’s romance with a black GI and they have not since reconciled. Noriko was a beautiful young woman, married the love of her life, raised a responsible daughter and now afflicted with beginnings of Alzheimer’s, she often imagines the presence of her late husband, Eamon, forgets her whereabouts, but often remembers critical details of her childhood.  Meanwhile Natsuko is as intolerant of her wayward daughter’s choices regarding her filial duty, marriage, sex etc. as she was of her sister’s choice of marriage, years ago. And yet despite the intolerance and the drama, Natsuko too has a certain inner strength and a vision to live life on her own terms.

Within artful strokes of “Calligraphy”, these four beautiful women with their unique version of inner strength, stamp their own signature in their world, with bold strokes of personal choices. Calligraphy is not a play about A significant event but about high emotional stakes of ordinary living and these get amplified with beautiful acting by talented cast. I love Mia Tagano in all the diverse roles I have seen her perform. Kudos to Theatreworks Artistic Director, Robert Kelley for enabling ordinary life issues to take the form of art. Calligraphy will be running till March 29, 2017.  For tickets, go to .

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“Every Five Minutes” by Linda McLean – Play Review

“Every Five Minutes” is not for the faint of the heart or someone unwilling to look at harsh realities staring us in the face.  Linda McLean is an award winning playwright from Scotland.  Extensive list of her award winning plays include Any Given Day, Strangers, Babies, Shimmer, One Good Beating, Riddance, Herald, What Love Is, This is Water, Uncertainty Files, Cold Cuts, Doch An Doris, Word for Word, andSex & God.

In “Every Five Minutes”, she lays before the audience, the harsh realities of political dissidents, imprisoned for years, and how the experience can forever alter their life.  This is however, not a political play.  To make it a political play would diminish the fragile reality of Mo’s life.  Mo (Rod Gnapp), a political dissident is released after 13 years of imprisonment.  When in prison, he was frequently in solitary confinement, and was water boarded and tortured.  Mo comes home to his wife, Sara (Mia Tagano) and is spending an evening with his close friends Ben (Sean San Jose) and Rachel (Carrie Paff), later joined by Ben and Rachel’s teenage daughter, Molly (Shawna Michelle James).

Nothing after the opening scene where the two couples are enjoying the drinks, proceeds in a logical, linear fashion.  The fragmented scenes that mirror the fragmented reality of Mo’s fractured mind, feel initially overwhelming.  It is only when one quits trying to make any logical sense that the obviousness of PTSD or the post traumatic stress, becomes apparent.  The brilliance of the play lies as much on the tough subject matter it tackles, as in what it does not focus upon and the closure that it does not provide to the audience.  The play does not dwell on the fact that Mo is seized from his home, without due process of the law and held for 13 years, or that he is tortured, perhaps outside the boundaries of legal and ethical, or the brutality of his captors; the play does not concern itself with providing a linear story line or explaining the details.  Rather, it dunks the audience into an emotional experience of a fractured, tormented mind, an experience so intense, that it requires surrendering; for a short while, it requires living inside Mo’s mind, living his reality, plagued by the demons that taunt him and haunt him, including the clowns (Patrick Alpatone and Jomar Tagatac), the Almighty who talks to him, his sisters, and the towering ghost of his father.  One walks away with a powerful experience.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This play may not unfold in a logical fashion, but nothing about it is incidental.  For instance, the title alludes to the fact that perhaps during interrogation, Mo might have been awoken every five minutes.  It may also point to the fact that a PTSD mind weaves in and out of sequences and events, excitement and despair, every few minutes, often dragging the loved ones along.  At the end of the play, if the lack of clarity leaves one with more uncertainty and questions than answers, the intensity of the experience leaves no doubt of its emotional impact.  Like the writer of the play, the director, Loretta Greco has done a brilliant job in putting together the entire carefully crafted but completely fragmented sequence of scenes, including the captors preparing Mo for his release.  The ritualistic preparation feels almost akin to preparation of a dead body, for the final burial.  On the other hand, it may point to the fact that while the captors were doing their job, they were not entirely cruel people.  Or it may allude to the fact that they wish to wipe out any trace of how Mo was treated during his imprisonment.  And only truly stellar actors like Rod Gnapp and Mia Tagano can pull of such intensely powerful acting required in this production.


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“The Loudest Man on Earth” – Play Review

“Sign language requires that, first and foremost, you look the other person in the eye.  The hands you take in through peripheral vision.  There is also a lot of touching involved: to get people’s attention, to make something clear.  Signing creates an extraordinary intimacy between people.  And an honesty.  It is a wonderfully imaginative, pictorial, sensual, humorous language.  It is a language that expresses many layers of meaning and feeling.” From Director’s Notes by Pamela Berlin on play “The Loudest Man on Earth”.

I went to see the play with the expectation of learning a thing or two about what the experience of deafness is like; about the prejudices and biases a deaf person might encounter.  I did learn; a lot.  But I was not prepared to be so entertained, so moved, so deeply engrossed.  This play is so deeply human that everyone can relate to it.  It is a story of two people, Jordan and Haylee who come together in a chance occurance, discover great chemistry and develop tenderness towards one another.  Adrian Blue, an acclaimed director/actor, who is also deaf, plays the role of Jordan, a maverick stage director, and Julie Fitzpatrick plays a curious, creative, and charismatic journalist.  They are absolutely superb, as they navigate many challenges, as their hearing and deaf worlds merge and collide, in their journey together.  Director Pamela Berlin has done an awesome job with multitude of events, none of which seem unrealistic or disjointed.  Special kudos to the stage manager, Jamie D. Mann for quick and creative staging changes to place the events in different times and contexts.  Mia Tagano and Cassidy Brown have played a variety of small roles that represent the hearing world, with such depth and character that it makes it hard to believe they are played by the same two people.

While everyone has done a fantastic job, none of it would have come together so beautifully, without a wonderful script by playwright Catherine Rush.  Rush who is married to director/actor Adrian Blue, who is deaf, has a deep insight into the characters of Jordan and Haylee, and yet the play is not restricted to these characters.  The play explores aspects of Hearing and Deaf culture, with compassion at the core, in addition to exploring the experiences of these two individuals who function simultaneously in three disparate worlds.  Their own little world, if left untouched, is fun, funny, endearing, romantic, and sweet.  Yet their world rattles and shakes up when it collides with the hearing and deaf worlds, outside of their little universe.  When Haylee introduces Jordan to her father, he asks, if Jordan is “Jewish AND deaf-mute”.  When Jordan is angry at Haylee’s friend making fun of the sign language, Haylee is furious at his defensiveness saying that it makes it difficult for them to acquire friends who are both hearing and deaf.  She insists, that it is important for them to acquire hearing friends.  Emphasizing the importance of the connectedness with the majority hearing world,  she says, “it is then that we become real, when we are connected”.

This is a beautiful play where the story is told through English, American Sign Language (ASL), and through Visual Vernacular, a performance process that combines ASL, mime, and film technique.  Some confusion that emerges initially, from Jordan’s brief on-stage solos, for those of us not familiar with sign language, mirrors the challenges of missed connections, slipped opportunities, and relief with feeling of “all well” when meaning becomes clear.  This play is entertaining, tender, very human, and deeply touching.  It is a story about being human, of holding on to one’s preferences, of letting go, of embracing differences, of never fully understanding differences; it is a story of love that is universal in its ability to transcend language.  For tickets, go to .

The Loudest Man on Earth - TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

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