By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Entertainment Editor
Next week’s opening night reception for “Wrinkles” at East West Players must be a very special occasion, indeed, because playwright Paul Kikuchi has prepared for it by doing something he hasn’t managed for the last 23 years.
“I actually bought a suit,” the 51-year-old proudly proclaimed, during an interview after a rehearsal last Saturday. “The last one I wore was when I got married.”
When the curtain goes up for previews of “Wrinkles” tonight at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo, it will mark the second of Kikuchi’s plays that EWP has produced for the stage. His 2009 “Ixnay” was generally well received, well enough for the theater group to dip into the writer’s well once more.
“I was just happy that I didn’t cause East West to close forever,” Kikuchi quipped, “But I was told they went beyond attendance expectations, and I was able to wipe the sweat off my brow over that one.”
Kikuchi said he was thrilled when East West decided to pick up “Ixnay,” and now that they’ve produced another, he feels doubly fortunate and hopeful that “Wrinkles” will eclipse the success of his earlier work.
“Wrinkles” follows the story of a 73-year-old retiree, whose private romantic exploits have become an internet sensation, a development very much unknown to his daughter and grandson. Kikuchi said the comedy, billed as being about “sex, lies and Tiger Balm,” draws on tales of his own father, though he hasn’t yet been completely forthcoming about it.
“This is loosely based on my dad, who was going through some relationship problems, which we all thought was amusing, since even my two daughters, even as teenagers, had no serious relationship events,” he explained. “I kind of told him about it, but I guess I’ve still kept it hidden, so this will be my coming out, in a way.”
More so than his father, Kikuchi said the play has stronger ties to the real-life story of Shigeo Tokuda of Japan, whom at age 73 and following a heart attack, needed a second career–and became involved in elder pornography. If that term is unfamiliar, Kikuchi said, “You can imagine. It’s adult-themed.”
To be clear, “Wrinkles” is appropriate for most audiences, described by Kikuchi as “PG-13 with plenty of playful inuendo.”
“It’s really about family and love and loss and other subtexts,” he said.
Kikuchi, who lives in South Pasadena, works as a substitute teacher and plays trumpet in several bands, has been writing plays only since 2006, so the rise in his success is remarkable. He said the idea for
“Wrinkles” came as a result of his taking the David Henry Hwang writer’s workshop, soon after he completed work on “Ixnay.”
Like “everyone else” in Los Angeles, Kikuchi said, he had been writing screenplays, starting off with teleplays and spec scripts, trying to secure an agent.
“Over the course of my fumbling career, I’ve had three different agents, two options, and I think I’ve managed to get a cup of Winchell’s coffee out of it,” he explained.
The coffee was a large, he recalled.
But as things begin to pick up for Kikuchi, he said his wife, Maida, has been a Godsend in giving him the latitude to work on a career that has led nowhere for so many would-be bards.
“She knows that this is my passion, so I’m lucky to have such a supportive and understanding wife, and now it’s beginning to pan out.”
Still, he said sometimes it is difficult to maintain focus working in his small home, which he shares with his wife, two girls and a “high-maintenance dog.”
“My best time to write is at night, so I go to Starbuck’s or Charlie’s–a lot of coffee houses,” he said “Playwriting class helps, to keep me on task, set deadlines and to finish the play.”
Kikuchi said the idea of his words translated and interpreted into action on stage is a viscerally gratifying experience, no matter how many times he sits through rehearsals and performances.
“I am just pleased for the actors in this one, Sab Shimono, Amy Hill and some great young actors, to be up there saying my words,” he explained. “They are bringing so much more to my characters than I ever imagined. Even the set design and lighting; when I first imagined this play, it started with a couch and a coffee table, and they have filled in all the colors and everything else, so this is way beyond my expectation.”
And when opening night comes, and Kikuchi finally fesses up to his father about the story’s origins, is he worried that Dad will ask him when he’s going to get a “real job?”
“I don’t think it’s going to happen in this lifetime,” he laughed. “I’m too old to get a real job now.”
“Wrinkles,” by Paul Kikuchi and directed by Jeff Liu, begins previews tonight with its opening night on Feb. 16, at the David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street in Little Tokyo. For ticket information and showtimes, please call East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or visit www.eastwestplayers.org