What it’s about: Adapted from the groundbreaking novel by John Akada, the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's No-No Boy follows draft resister Ichiro Yamada as he returns to Seattle following his release from prison. The adaptation depicts Ichiro’s search for resolution among family, friends, and a community in transition following the resettlement of Japanese Americans in America after the war. It plays at the Studio Theatre in Theatre Row through February 18th.
Why you should see it: It’s a really important play about a subject not often discussed. The novel by Akada came out in the '50s but only found prominence in the '70s. Ken Narasaki’s adaptation parses through a dense and layered novel to find the dramatic action necessary to portray the text theatrically. The cast is excellent. Chris Doi portrays Ichiro’s dilemma with appropriate ambivalence. David Huynh’s Kenji is heartbreaking whereas Eric Elizaga is full of charm as Freddie. The standout, though, is Karen Tsen Lee who creates the most memorable and nuanced character as Ma, Ichiro’s mother. She singlehandedly puts the play’s emotional center in constant chaos with her strange and unsettling, yet deeply moving performance.
What could be better: I don’t know if it was just the production I saw but there was no lighting design: the lights stay on the whole time, not even going into a blackout to signal the end of the play. The actors sometimes have to awkwardly come out of character in front of the audience, dissolving the effect of their performances.
The last word(s): Given the current political climate, No-No Boy tells an important story. The play is worth watching for the actors and their truly brave performances.