By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
In his 2013 memoir “Starting from Loomis,” Hiroshi Kashiwagi writes of his love of theater and joining a small troupe of actors in Tule Lake performing “Ille” by Eugene O’Neill. Called the Little Theater of Tule Lake, the ensemble was a bright spark of creativity in a desolate place.
Then in February 1943, Questions 27 and 28, the infamous loyalty registration orders, were implemented.
The loyalty questions, posed by the U.S. government, created schisms within the Japanese American community that have lingered for decades. It also snuffed that creative flame of the Little Theater. Kashiwagi states mournfully: “When politics displaced art, when division, distrust, even enmity among members — all caused by the infamous order — effectively killed off any creative energy with the group.”
That sense of bitter division and regret is reflected in the late author’s play “The Betrayed,” a love story set within Tule Lake. The Watsonville Buddhist Temple is hosting a virtual edition, starring Helen Ota and Michael Palma, which will be livestreamed on Saturday, May 22, from 1 to 3 p.m.
Rev. Jay Shinseki said, “We selected this performance after consulting with Soji Kashiwagi and we felt that with the divisiveness that we are seeing in our country, we felt this play shows what that can do for families and communities. We also felt it is important to show that, despite differences, we can find hope, reconciliation and healing.”
“The Betrayed” is an important fundraiser for the temple, which has continued to hold online services and provide needed support for the local community, a farming town in Santa Cruz County.
“We have certainly missed in-person gatherings, but we have been able to keep in touch through the Internet. We have reached out to our seniors with care packages and meals. We have had to cancel many fundraising events, so this virtual play is an important event for us,” Shinseki said.
The two-act play was performed at the Japanese American National Museum in 2010. Grateful Crane Ensemble has produced a series of virtual performances featuring real-life couples, currently sheltering at home during the pandemic.
Kashiwagi, Grateful Crane executive producer and son of the playwright, explained his father’s motivation for writing “The Betrayed.”
“He wanted to use the play as a way of reconciliation within our community, that could lead to healing. He felt bad about this split that had been going on ever since it happened, 78 years ago, that still has lingering after effects,” Kashiwagi said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.
Ota and Palma portray two lovers who are divided by the loyalty questions during World War II. They meet one another at a camp reunion many years later.
“She’s from Seattle, he’s from a small California farming town,” Kashiwagi explained. “Bitterly torn apart, 40 years go by, both have been married and have kids. In talking it over, they realize the consequences of their choices, ‘no, no’ ‘yes, yes’ choices and how it affected their lives.”
After the performance, Kashiwagi and cast members will be joined by Dr. Satsuki Ina to discuss the long-term effects of the loyalty questions. Ina was born in Tule Lake and has researched the incarceration trauma and its intergenerational impact.
“The interesting part will be the Q&A to see what people really want to know. I have a feeling a lot of Sansei and Yonsei don’t know a lot about this,” he said.
Kashiwagi said going virtual has enabled Grateful Crane to reach out to new audiences, including Sansei who are now retired. Even as COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, it remains unknown when they will be able to resume live performances. The group had to cancel a planned goodwill tour of the Tohoku region of Japan in 2020.
The anti-Asian racism and upheaval depicted in “The Betrayed” resonates today during the pandemic. Kashiwagi, who was in Sacramento caring for his mom, said today’s climate brings back troubling echoes of the past.
“Mom just the other day said, ‘This feels like déjà vu.’ How we were treated during the war, after the war, that same feeling. There’s definitely parallels and of course the issues in the play over loyalty vs. disloyalty and the community being split, we have a similar split within our country right now,” Kashiwagi said.
Donation: $25 per person or $50 per household, which includes play screening and discussion. Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-betrayed-tickets-142808481011
Ticket-holders will receive an email with the link to the virtual play 48 hours prior to the showing.
For more information, contact Watsonville Buddhist Temple at [email protected]