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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

You can't order honor on the Internet.— Natsuko

Kevin Daniels and Emily Kuoda

(Photo: Ed Krieger)
" It's called Calligraphy because when you draw with that dark black India ink, you make bold strokes. That's how we live life - with bold strokes, " says playwright Valina Hasu Houston. But the four women in her new play making its world premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center are not simply bold. Under Jon Lawrence Rivera's direction, they're tortured, angry and all of them are up front about their feelings which are exacerbated by the aging process.

Two Japanese sisters live on two different continents— Noriko Matsuda Jameson (Emily Kuroda) lives in the U.S. where she has gone with her African-American Military Policeman husband, Eamon (Kevin Daniels). while the older sister Natsuko remains in Japan unhappily married to a Japanese man and shares her flair for clothes with her daughter Sayuri (Fran de Leon). Sayuri communes via video chatting with her cousin Hiromi (Melody Butiu), Noriko's daughter, but they are polar opposites. Hiromi is dowdy while Sayuri wears a blonde wig, mini skirts and boots.

The sisters haven't met for years, partly because of resentment over Noriko's marriage to a black man. But now a reunion is planned and Noriko and daughter board the plane. The flight is fraught. Noriko is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Sometimes Eamon is more real to her than anyone, even as he passes into alcoholism, resentment of Noriko's family's neglect and eventually dies of heart failure. Natsuko, on the other hand, slyly pretends to be lame but in private she dons a bouffant lavender ball gown and plans to go ballroom dancing. She insists she's lonely and wants to keep Sayuri always with her. Desperate, Sayuri plans an elopement.

A large kanji character fills the back wall and low benches complete the set. Wheeled tables that can be pushed to one side are computer desks and Sayuri's dressing table.

As Noriko, Emily Kuroda is gentle, bewildered and frightened. A letter from the DMV canceling her license threatens her independence. Jeanne Sakata as Natsuko is sly and mean. Her husband was always in love with Noriko, mother's favorite, so a lifetime of resentment has built up which spills over in the end.

The daughters, each in her own way, struggle furiously for independence. Melody Butiu's Hiromi is a typical American woman, conventional, determined. Fran de Leon's Sayuri is glamorous but rebellious against the Queen Of Mean. She's the typical Meiji type, wild but reluctantly subservient in her expected role of caregiver. Kevin Daniels as the dashing Eamon is gentle, fun-loving, a dancer until the last scene when alcohol overcomes him. .

Houston has a sure sense of rhythm, cannily building her play until the last scene. The women aren't afraid of showing their feelings, fighting and bickering in a way that lends spice to the production. Calligraphy is the first Equity production of Playwrights' Arena and the Latino Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center. It's an auspicious beginning!

Playwright: Velina Hasu Houston
Director: Jon Lawrence Rivera
Cast: Melody Butiu (Hiromi Jameson), Kevin Daniels (Eamon Jameson, Policeman), Fran de Leon (Sayuri Matsuda), Emily Kuroda (Noriko Matsuda Jameson), Jeanne Sadata (Natsuko Matsuda).
Set Design: Ann Sheffield
Lighting Design: Debra Lockwood
Costume Design: Drew Bird
Sound Design: Bob Blackburn
Music Composer: Nathan Wang
Dramaturg: Luis Alfaro
Stage Manager: Jaclyn Kalkhurst
Running Time: 2 hours, one intermission
Running Dates: November 12-December 12, 2010
Where: Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. Reservations: (866) 811-4111.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 13.
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