A nice surprise
Teahouse of the August Moon
Nevada City, CA 95959
Most folks identify Teahouse of the August Moon with the dated 1956 film starring the miscast Marlon Brando (in “yellowface” makeup). It hasn’t held up well. But the 1954 Broadway version netted the Tony and the Pulitzer. Surely the original script had something going for it.
Indeed it does. This well-balanced revival by Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra celebrates this postwar comedy’s gentle charms, and helps explain why it’s rarely attempted.
Quite simply, it’s a challenging show, requiring a large cast, abundant costumes, multiple set changes, a live goat, and what looks like an army Jeep (which had to be reassembled onstage here). It also needs Asian performers, speaking many lines in Japanese (which this cast has memorized with varying degrees of success).
Set during the American occupation of Japan following WWII, the humor rises naturally from the cultural miscues that inevitably accrue as the Americans and Okinawans learn to get along. It’s a romanticized picture to be sure, colored by prurient assumptions Americans then harbored about geisha girls. But overall, the presentation of the culture clash is sympathetic and sincere, and the debunking of lockstep military thinking is humane, not strident. Director Diane Fetterly does a fine job sustaining spontaneity—this show is two-and-a-half hours long (two intermissions) but it flies by swiftly. Standouts include Dennis Yen as the sagacious Sakini, Lyra Dominguez as Lotus Blossom (her Japanese is pretty good), and cut-ups Danny McCammon and Darryl Stines as Americans “gone native.”