On Saturday, June 18, at the San Fernando Valley JA Community Center, Dan Taguchi, working with East West Players, produced a spirited and entertaining concert reading of “Manzanar: The Story of an American Family.”
I had first seen the performance at the theater next to the JACCC eight years ago. According to the program, EWP also did a 45-minute version of “Manzanar” in 2004-05 as part of their “Theatre for Youth” program.
I doubt many in the audience of 300 were aware of the great amount of time and effort which went in to the presentation that night.
The production was the project of JACL board member Nancy Gohata. Nancy, whose family was interned at Manzanar, and her husband, Yas, were cited by the City of L.A. for arranging pilgrimages from the Valley to Manzanar between 1976-1996 — 20 years!
That being said, however, when she proposed reviving the Manzanar reading at our JACL chapter board meeting early this year, I was less than enthusiastic. My feeling was that it had been done years ago — can’t we come up with something more current? As much as I liked the reading eight years ago, I thought by now it should have been made into a play. But the board could not resist Nancy’s enthusiasm.
I am pleased to report the revived “Manzanar” worked — on many levels. There were several young people in the audience who were given an entertaining, intimate glimpse into camp life. And it was a delight to see EWP seeming to really “get into” what they were doing.
Rehearsals involved having the players come to the center on three Mondays prior to the performance. Our board members provided meals for the players after the rehearsals. They also provided refreshments to accompany the bentos served after the performance. As Nancy said: The program was a success because of many people working together. The resulting presentation had to be gratifying to everyone involved.
After the performance, Dan Taguchi, who wrote the music, introduced Rus McCoy, an African American. Rus wrote the book as well as the lyrics and some of the music. He came on stage to joyfully hug many in the cast. Despite some unpleasant memories that may have been revived for some of the former internees, the evening had the feeling of a celebration.
As a sidelight: During intermission I greeted Bob and Juanita Arvizu. Bob’s mother was a long-time housekeeper for Dr. Mary Oda, whom I reported on in an earlier column. Bob and Juanita’s daughter had won one of the $1,000 Eugene Oda Scholarships awarded to a Mexican American high school graduate. Their daughter went on to Stanford University and is doing quite well.
In talking with them during intermission, they mentioned they were neighbors of Dr. Andy Thibodeaux, who practices dentistry in San Fernando. Dr. Thibodeaux is the son of Dr. Oda’s late sister, Lily, and is married to Laura, the daughter of Ralph Lazo. Dr. Thibodeaux’s son received a JACL/JA Community Center Scholarship a few years ago. It was a good feeling to be made aware of this connection between our two communities.
Phil Shigekuni can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.