By Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, & Lorenzo Thione
Directed by Paul Daigneault
SpeakEasy Stage Company, Calderwood Pavillon
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
The production of Allegiance currently running at the Speakeasy Stage Company in Boston shows everything they do best. In the capable hands of director Paul Daigneault, with choreography by Ilyse Robbins, and their truly amazing design team, the SpeakEasy has breathed new life into this work that has met with mixed reviews in the past. One of the critiques is still valid and I will speak to that later, but this is really a remarkable production.
The story is loosely based on actor George Takei’s experiences from when he and his family were sent to an internment camp for American citizens of Japanese background. It was a shameful episode in the history of our country. The play deals with that and also with the conflict it caused within the families sent to these camps over how to deal with the situation.
The story revolves around the Kimura family and how they dealt with the requirement to sign a loyalty questionnaire, specifically questions #27 and #28. Question #27 asked if the men would be willing to fight with the armed forces of the United States, while question #28 asked about their loyalties to the Emperor of Japan and if they would swear loyalty to the United States. Some agreed, believing this would help allay suspicions many had about Japanese Americans’ support of the United States, while others saw this as a violation of their rights, after all, they were American citizens and no other American citizens were being asked to fill out such questionnaires.
Sammy Kimura (Sam Tanabe) and his sister Kei (Grace Yoo) are at odds on this with Sammy willing to answer and also anxious to join the army and fight for his country, while Kei sees it as a violation of their rights. Their father Tatsuo refuses to answer and is taken away in handcuffs to another camp. It is all heartbreaking.
The song Gaman, Japanese for “endure with patience and dignity” leaves the question open as to how you retain your dignity under such circumstances. It is a beautiful and moving song delivered with “dignity” by Grace Yoo whose voice is lovely.
Michael Hisamoto plays Mike Masaoka who represents the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) that was highly criticized for not taking a stand against the interment. His go along to get along attitude certainly does not endear that organization with the audience.
Frankie Suzuki (Tyler Simahk) who becomes a leader in the resistance movement begins seeing Kei romantically. He and Sammy are at odds as seen through the song “Resist”. Sammy sees Frankie as being disloyal for not being willing to sign up with the armed forces to fight while Frankie believes in the principle of not giving any ground in defending his rights as an American citizen. This all gives a micro treatment to the larger issues and is quite effective.
With a beautiful set and lighting that conveys much atmosphere and including Japanese lanterns hung around the theatre that dim and are blown around to great effect, this play touches many emotions. There was hardly a dry eye in the house at the end.
I have heard criticisms of the score, but I found it beautiful and the choreography amazing. Get In The Game is a unique piece with a baseball theme that is a joy to watch. What Makes A Man sung by Sammy poses questions that are not easy to answer, especially when faced with this situation. It may seem odd when seeing a work that deals with such a dark subject, but there is much that is uplifting in this story as well.
My one quibble with Allegiance is with the many historical inaccuracies in the script. I fully understand the artistic license that is used and can understand the reasons for it, but the actual story is bleak as it is, and I fear straying too far from the truth gives those who would want to diminish what really happened ammunition to say it all as been exaggerated. That simply isn’t true. It was a terrible thing and we should see that it never happens again.
As I said at the beginning, this is the SpeakEasy at its best. Simply outstanding.
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