The Woman Warrior

Rated 4.0 Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS) is staging a big project—The Woman Warrior, a play by Deborah Rogin based on two semi-autobiographical novels (the other being China Men) by Stockton native Maxine Hong Kingston.The play spans continents, time, reality and myth. Berkeley Rep staged the lavish premiere (with a budget exceeding $500,000) in 1994. The current production in Nevada City is also very large, with a cast of 27, most playing multiple roles. CATS operates on a vastly smaller budget, using community actors. But they’ve created a show that not only looks good—it also captures the novelist’s intent.

The set (Teresa Shea, designer) represents three realms. At left, there’s a cramped, two-story domestic structure, containing a Chinese laundry, kitchen, bedroom and more. In the middle is an open zone, scene of weddings, spirit visitations, interracial taxi dancing (to music by Glenn Miller) and more. At right rises a stylized rocky peak, atop which the mythical female warrior Fa Mu Lan surveys the world, and (later on) Chinese coolies build a railroad while an Anglo bossman watches.

Director Diane Fetterly, a founder of Foothill Theatre Company, has long been known for her ability to create on-stage images that linger in your head. And she does this at several points in this show, including a wild scene with a woman riding atop a demon-possessed bed.

Several actors deliver strong lead performances. Lisa Moon is memorable as Brave Orchid, blending steely maternal will and Chinese superstition. Sacramento’s A.M. Lai plays an educated Chinese man making a hard transition to American life. Holli Lichenwalter-Hiraoka plays the teen who represents Kingston in her youth. There are several good cameos by the supporting cast.

It’s a huge undertaking, which surely strained CATS’ community resources to the limit. But Fetterly, her cast and designers do a remarkably good job of bringing to the stage the largely inward journey that drives the novels, as the young Chinese-American teen works out who she is, where she’s from, and where she lives now.