Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra has a unique strategy among the region’s “ethnic” companies. They stage just one show a year, channeling lots of research, resources and energy into that production. The effort shows, because even though CATS is a community group, their productions feel bigger than most, with a nearly professional sheen.This year’s show is Tea, a moody memory play by Velina Hasu Houston about five Japanese “war brides” living (and in one case dying) near a remote Kansas military base in the 1960s. The artistic leadership of CATS is largely Chinese-American, and director Sandra Rockman dubs herself “first generation Jewish-American,” so they grasped the challenge of crossing cultures. To bring depth to the Japanese aspects of this show, CATS brought in seven consultants on topics including women’s mannerisms and pronunciation, as well as the style of movement in traditional noh—a form of masked musical drama.
The noh angle relates to the character Himiko, well played by CATS artistic director Lisa Moon. Himiko commits suicide in the first scene, then hovers over the story as a ghostly presence, suspended between this world and the next. Cacie Mularchuk also delivers a nuanced performance as the shy Teruko.