In this tiny story with a giant message, playwright Philip Kan Gotanda shows us just how fragile relationships can be – but also how fulfilling. At 65, James Washington (Danny Glover) has just retired from the military – and has morphed into a couch potato. He and his wife Sumi (June Angela) have been married for 37 years, but the true test of love may be dealing with a husband constantly underfoot. After nearly 20 years working as a secretary, Sumi too is retired; but she is embarking full steam ahead on projects which have tantalized her for years – things she wanted to do but couldn’t fit into her busy schedule.
One of those projects happens to be making clay pottery. But occasionally a “yohen” emerges from the kiln, a piece that accidentally turned out all wrong. Is the deformed pottery ugly or beautiful? The question seems to be a matter of perspective. Gotanda’s metaphor fits right into what’s going on in this couple’s life. Has this marriage become a yohen?
Suddenly James finds himself kicked out of the house, returning only to have a “dinner date” with his wife. Things have turned upside down for the pair, but especially for James, who finds that his roots have been trimmed into a shape that he doesn’t recognize. That is to say, until he remembers his life-long obsession with boxing. And the chance it might offer to mentor troubled kids who need an anchor in the sea of life.
This could easily be a true story for many people as they grow older, retire, and then what? At this juncture, Gotanda has added an interesting twist: James is African American, and Sumi is Japanese. The two met and married while James was stationed in Japan post-WW II. Theirs is an interracial mating – with all the complications and complexities that entails. A phase of life problem is blended with old and resurrected racial issues and then compounded with long-standing unresolved problems in their marriage. YOHEN is a poignant story of two people trying to redefine their lives – and their marriage – as they stumble into the “Golden Years.”
Director Ben Guillory, Producing Artistic Director of The Robey Theatre Company, does an excellent job of helming this seemingly simple story, presented as a joint project with the East West Players. Danny Glover reprises a role which he originated in Los Angeles in 1999. The tale is intimate and charming, and the audience may feel as if they are “flies on the wall” observing a marital balancing act. The talented pair certainly feel very real as they struggle with changes in their lives which they never anticipated.
Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo has created a homey setting, while Michael Ricks’ lighting, Corinne Carrillo’s sound, and Naila Aladdin Sanders’ costumes lend a feeling of authenticity to the narrative. YOHEN is entertaining, but also raises some intriguing questions which may have no clear-cut answers.
YOHEN runs through November 19, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The David Henry Hwang Theater is located at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $40 to $60 (student, senior, and group discounts available). For information and reservations, call 213-625-7000.