‘Valley of the Heart’ at The Stage in San Jose

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Lakin Valdez (Benjamin Montaño), Christina Chu (Hana Yamaguchi), Melanie Arii Mah (Thelma “Teruko” Yamaguchi), Rafael Toribio (Kurogo), Anthony Chan (Calvin Sakamoto), and Ryan Takemiya (Joe “Yoshi” Yamaguchi) in the world premiere of “Valley of the Heart,” presented in partnership by San Jose Stage Company and El Teatro Campesino.

Lakin Valdez (Benjamin Montaño), Christina Chu (Hana Yamaguchi), Melanie Arii Mah (Thelma “Teruko” Yamaguchi), Rafael Toribio (Kurogo), Anthony Chan (Calvin Sakamoto), and Ryan Takemiya (Joe “Yoshi” Yamaguchi) in the world premiere of “Valley of the Heart,” presented in partnership by San Jose Stage Company and El Teatro Campesino.

SAN JOSE — San Jose Stage Company, in partnership with El Teatro Campesino, is presenting “Valley of the Heart: A Kabuki Corrido” through March 13 at The Stage, 490 S. 1st St. in San Jose.

The fight to maintain dignity, identity, family and love are at the heart of this American love story deeply rooted in the fertile Santa Clara Valley.

Famed playwright, director and producer Luis Valdez’s sweeping epic illustrates the ironic divide between America’s ideals and its actions in what The San Jose Mercury News says is a “multicultural touchstone,” and of which The Los Angeles Times says, “We need memory plays as powerful as this one … a quintessentially California play, written by a master of the genre.”

Opening in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, the Yamaguchis and the Montaños are two immigrant families struggling to provide a future for their American-born children after the Great Depression. The families’ oldest children, Benjamin (Lakin Valdez) and Teruko/Thelma (Melanie Arii Mah), fall in love and the emotional stakes are further heightened when the Japanese attack Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, throwing both families into uncertainty.

Issues of loyalty and patriotism provoke both rebellion and heroism among young, imprisoned Japanese Americans while both Teruko and Benjamin fight to maintain their dignity, identity, family, and love in the face of war, fear, and separation.

The cast includes Randall Nakano, Christina Chu, Gustavo Mellado, Rosa Maria Escalante, Anthony Chan, Endres Ortiz, Christy Sandoval and Ryan Takemiya.

“I accepted the role of Thelma for two main reasons: to work with a playwright I studied and admired in college and to tell the story of my Japanese American grandparents, Mum and Mas Arii of Cupertino, Calif.,” said Mah. “They were interned at Gila River, Ariz., where they met, and my grandfather fought throughout Europe with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. This is their story and the legacy of Japanese Americans throughout the United States of America.”

Mellado said he is delighted to be reprising the role of Cayetano Montaño, which he originated in the workshop productions of “Valley of the Heart” at El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, where he also appeared in “La Pastorela” and “La Virgen de Tepeyac.”

“Aside from having originated the role (of Maruca) in San Juan Bautista, I accepted the role because it is such a beautiful human story,” said Sandoval. “It is also not very often that an actor gets the luxury of working alongside the writer of the play. I am most excited about bringing this play to the San Jose area, where the play takes place.”

“I accepted this role (as Yoshi) because as a fourth-generation Japanese American descended from immigrant farmers, this story is my story,” said Takemiya. “So often minorities are made to be invisible in the arts and media, so I’m super excited to be acting out the experiences of my community, and am thankful for the opportunit to keep our stories alive.”

“I accepted this role (as Calvin Sakamoto) because I recently learned more about Japanese internment in World War II,” said Chan. “In high school, we dug deep into the facts of World War II, but only learned a paragraph or two about Japanese internment. Once I worked on ‘Allegiance,’ a musical inspired by George Takei’s internment when he was a child, I was fascinated by the internment and how the Japanese lived in horse stalls, camps in middle America, and much more. I also took this job because it gives a chance for Asian American actors to perform incredible work by amazing playwrights.”

Born to migrant farmworkers and regarded as the father of Chicano theater in the U.S., Luis Valdez is best known for his play “Zoot Suit,’’ his movie “La Bamba,” and his creation of El Teatro Campesino, where he serves as artistic director.

Tickets range from $30 to $65. Some shows are already sold out. Available showtimes:

Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, March 9, at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, March 11, at 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 12, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

For more information, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org.

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