By GERALD YAMADA
I saw the play “No-No Boy” at the Studio Theatre on Theatre Row in New York City on May 14. Ken Narasaki is the playwright adapting the play from a novel written by John Okada that was first published in 1957. Ron Nakahara directed the play, and the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre produced it.
The play, which takes place two years after the end of World War II, tells the story of a young Japanese American, Ichiro Yamada, who was sentenced to prison for refusing to serve in the U.S. military while he and his family were in a war relocation center camp. As the play opens, he is returning to Seattle upon his release from prison. His family had already resettled in Seattle after the war.
Ichiro refused to serve when he received a draft notice. He was entirely influenced by his domineering mother, who was pro-Japan and did not want her son fighting against Japan. To satisfy his mother, he chose to be a war resister and serve prison time rather than to be inducted into the Army.
Upon his return home, he finds that his mother refuses to believe that Japan had lost the war and that she dismisses photos of the destruction of Hiroshima as propaganda. She is still waiting to return to a victorious Japan.
The play centers on the themes of honesty and self-reflection as Ichiro deals with anger from his younger patriotic brother, continued dominance from his strong-willed mother, and disdain from former friends who served. In so doing, it seeks to broaden the audience’s understanding as to why Ichiro’s actions were not acts of disloyalty.
The play is enlightening in that it gives perhaps one explanation as to why some refused military service. To the play’s credit, it does not foment divisiveness within the community by pitting one group against another as a blame game or as a deceptive ploy to hide pro-Japan loyalties; nor does it ask for an apology.
The play was well produced and directed and convincingly performed by all of the actors and actresses. Unfortunately, it had a limited engagement at the Studio Theatre, but it was well worth my trip to New York City.
Gerald Yamada is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Japanese American Veterans Association. Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.