A contemporary Asian American story with puppetry

by Alix Cohen . . .

Japanese immigrant Hiro and his Caucasian wife Amy have settled near Portland, Oregon with 19 year-old daughter Ashley (her face looks too old.) who’s on the spectrum and Lucky, a white poodle observing everything and advising Hiro.  The family lived for a time in Osaka, Japan but Amy longed for the United States, so they returned.

Arguments in the house have grown increasingly common. Hiro is on unemployment while Amy works. Viewing the classified, he’s full of excuses. Ashley dropped out of school to take a succession of menial jobs.  She’s addicted to the video game Destiny Max resembling pixilated shadow puppets, on which she spends all her money. The girl moved out awhile but couldn’t handle life alone. She blows up with little provocation. It’s been determined she has Aspergers Syndrome. Bigoted neighbors ask whether she’s “radioactive from the bombs dropped on Japan.” Three doctors currently deal with her case. Money is tight.

Camera work is excellent. After we enter the space with the show’s creators, close-ups make us forget the production takes place on a small set in a big barn. (Director of Photography- Francisco Aliwalas.) Scenic Design (Jaerin Son) manifests credible environments evoking a feeling of intimacy. Direction (Ralph B. Peña’s ) is nuanced, especially in light of a wooden cast who don’t bend much and can’t close their eyes. The most articulated puppet is curmudgeonly Lucky who moves surprisingly like a dog and even pees. Lucky’s interaction with Hiro works especially well.

Amy is at her last tether. She loves her daughter but can’t handle her. Hiro’s solution is to move back to Japan to be near his parents. Ashley had friends there and never made any here. A scene of parent make-up sex after strained discussion is discreetly and gracefully shot. It occurs cutting back and forth from Ashley online with strangers, one of whom extends a lesbian invitation.  The Japanese girl is completely naïve.  Real ages, even sexes are hidden on the net. Danger hovers.

Acting is very good, almost making up for the fact that people’s mouths don’t move. Hiro is warm, rueful, even-toned, Amy in distress. Ashley, trying to figure out who she is, sounds angry, petulant, and young.

We do see a solution, but whether the bottom will hold is another matter. Meanwhile there’s hope and pain.

In September 2020, a group of artists assembled in a barn in Wisconsin to stage a puppet play. The setting provided a controlled environment that allowed all participants to observe strict COVID-19 protocols.

Mae-Yi Theater Company in association with The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival presents Vancouver – Written and Directed by Ralph B. Peña.

Voice of Hiro-James Yaegoshi, Voice of Amy- Cindy Cheung, Voice of Ashley- Shannon Tyo,

Voice of Lucky (the dog) – Daniel K. Isaac

Mark Blashford, KT Shivak, and Puppetry Director, Tom Lee- additional puppeteers

Streaming Through May 31

Registration and Donations: https://ma-yistudios.com/video/vancouver/