SAN FRANCISCO — “Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend,” a true story of forbidden love, will be presented by First Voice as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival on Thursday, May 19, at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 21, at 9 p.m.; and Sunday, May 22, at 3:30 p.m. at the Southside Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, San Francisco.
A secret shame at the time of the 1906 Great Earthquake, the marriage of Helen Emery, daughter of the archdeacon of Grace Cathedral. and Gunjiro Aoki, scion of a samurai noble house, sparked “yellow peril” journalism, public outrage, death threats and the loss of Emery’s citizenship.
Told by Gunjiro’s grandniece, Brenda Wong Aoki, accompanied by Emmy Award-winning composer Mark Izu and koto artist Shoko Hikage, repercussions from Gunjiro’s marriage reverberate into the new millennium.
“Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend,” the U.S. representative to the Adelaide International Festival, has been called “fascinating and inspirational” by Chicago Weekly Reader.
Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For more information, visit www.sfiaf.org/brenda_wong_aoki_with_mark_izu.
First Voice features the haunting eloquence of writer-performer Aoki with the silk and iron tones of composer-contra bass player Izu — artists in the vanguard of cultural metamorphosis. Their original story-dramas, rooted in gagaku, nohgaku and physical theater, center around myth, personal story and history.
Izu is listed in The Grove Dictionary of Music as a seminal leader of Asian American jazz. Aoki’s grandfather was a founder of America’s first Japanese settlement – Japantown San Francisco. Their work has garnered multiple Hollywood-Dramalogue Awards, NEA Fellowships, Critic Circle Awards, INDIE Awards, ASCAP awards and an Emmy, among other honors.
Their plays include “Kuan-yin: Our Lady of Compassion,” “Mermaid” (with Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), “Soul of the Great Bell” (with San Jose Taiko), “The Queen’s Garden,” and “Legend of Morning Glory.”