Philip Kan Gotanda

Visiting playwright Philip Kan Gotanda said that #5 The Angry Red Drum owes its title to something he overheard at UC Davis about the old Murder Burger stand. The burger joint became Redrum Burger when the original owner sold the business but retained the name. “Redrum … Red Drum,” Gotanda explained.

The play, which opened at the campus on November 20, is a tribute of sorts to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. #5 The Angry Red Drum will be on view at UC Davis again during the first weekend in December. (There are no Thanksgiving weekend performances.)

Gotanda was born in Stockton, attended UC Santa Cruz during the late 1960s and settled in the Bay Area. He took up writing plays while pursuing a law degree. His scripts—many on Japanese-American themes—put him on the literary map in the 1980s, including Yankee Dawg You Die, which looked at stereotypes of Asians in the movies.

His recent play After the War, set in San Francisco in the 1940s, was commissioned by American Conservatory Theater and premiered last year.

The story concerns two brothers, conjoined at birth and then separated, who are reunited. There’s also a retrograde character called Backwards Soldier and a guy called Truman (who shows up when bad things happen that aren’t his fault). There’s also a Dark Angel, and a Cigarette Girl. The sound design includes songs by Bob Dylan. (Gotanda was a singer-guitarist in coffee shops during the late ’60s/early ’70s.)

“The idea more than anything was to allow ideas in my imagination to flow,” he said. He also wanted to write “a play that can be done in any kind of environment with any kind of budget.”

“If you have no money, [you] can do that,” he says. “Or, if you have money, you can do it with more bells and whistles.”