Fri 12 Feb, 2016 06:26 pm
From the Village Voice -
George Takei was the force behind this play, inspired by his experiences in an internment camp, in WWII.
The new Broadway musical Allegiance has posted its closing notice and will be vacating the Longacre Theatre on February 14. This makes me sad — not because I had a particularly good time at Allegiance (I didn't) but because the show aimed to do something meaningful. It tried to grapple with a pivotal moment in our nation's history, and to do so in an honest and heartfelt, while still entertaining, way. Ultimately it didn't succeed, but failure is a relative concept.
Americans tend to make a big to-do about success, especially when quantifiable: the number of awards, box office dollars, Web hits, performances given, copies sold, likes clicked, and whatever else you can tot up statistically. No doubt this fascination with metrics has its good side. It encourages a healthy competitive sense in artists, and it keeps the public interested. But it also has a downside: It puts success ahead of other values that might be healthier for the human spirit, and it often does so in a frenzied, obsessive way that's probably unhealthy in itself.
The consuming urge to succeed tempts artists into manipulative tricks. Experienced showbiz folk know only too well how such tricks are performed and how hollow the applause that follows can sound. People who work regularly in the theater value honesty and sincerity because the manipulations — the up-a-third big finish to a song, the shouting climax to a speech that needs no shouting — become, too often, the theater's daily bread, and it's not nourishing. When artists try a show that sets its mind on meaning instead of flimflammery, and doesn't succeed, their colleagues' tears are not the crocodile kind; those to be shed over Allegiance when it goes will be very real indeed.
Still, Allegiance had to go. Although theater people spend much of their lives manufacturing illusions for the folks out front — or maybe because that's what they do — they're notably hardheaded about facing one key fact: Either a show sells tickets or it doesn't. If it doesn't, in a nonprofit venue it will play out its limited run and not extend. In the high-budget commercial context of Broadway, low ticket sales means goodbye.
Allegiance aspired to be a Broadway-scale musical, the costliest of all theater forms. It faced stiff competition (Hamilton, for starters) while tackling a subject many ordinary musical-show patrons would find off-putting: the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II, when the vast majority of these almost entirely loyal citizens were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Stigmatized as security risks, they were compelled to live till war's end in miserable conditions. Thanks to their uprooting from the pre-war lives they had built, they suffered tremendous loss of property as well as deep emotional wounds. For Japanese Americans, even those born generations after 1945, the trauma and the complicated feelings the experience occasioned remain salient elements in their perception of America.
But honesty is an ethical principle, not an aesthetic approach. Allegiance faced a huge struggle in trying to pair its somber historical truths with its essentially cheery escapist form. In the end, that slippage was more visible to audiences than either the history or the good cheer. Onstage, internment camp life often seemed sparklingly clean and jolly, despite dialogue cues to the contrary; dramatic conflicts tended to crop up arbitrarily, in lumpy patches, with a particularly unwieldy lump shoved in all too hurriedly at the end. These were the honest mistakes of honest craftsmen striving to say something that mattered deeply to them. But on Broadway you pay for your mistakes, honest or otherwise, at the box office.
Still, honesty deserves respect, as does the desire to speak truth. And where craftsmanship is at work, there are often moments of true achievement, as there were in Allegiance's performances. Lea Salonga, whose voice has ripened and strengthened in tone since Miss Saigon, sang angelically in the female lead; Telly Leung brought vivid energy and panache to the central role of her brother, and there was more beautiful singing by Katie Rose Clarke, as the Army nurse he inappropriately loves. And George Takei — making his Broadway debut at this late date! — brought a delicate, precise charm to the role of their grandfather.
Takei brought authenticity, too: The camps were a part of his childhood (he was eight when the war ended); his recollections, and his determination that the experience of the camps not be forgotten, were the cause of the work's creation. He has called Allegiance his "legacy project." And that legacy, befitting the experience, is a complex one. From his vantage point at the show's center, Takei has spoken out firmly, on the air and via social media, about the new right-wing movements afoot to do to Muslim Americans what was done to Japanese Americans generations ago.
That Allegiance will close while other Broadway shows (including some of lesser moral value but greater skill) keep running constitutes a sad fact of life but underscores the theater's willingness to face reality. I only wish that, instead of Allegiance, the show closing were the big, bullying, manipulative right-wing performance against which Takei has stood up so firmly, on a whole host of issues, from same-sex marriage to global warming. The Republican tough-talkers who drape themselves in military postures while voting against veterans' benefits could learn a few things from the truths embedded in Allegiance. I hope some of them catch it before it closes.
I like Takei.
I semi-like theater (long, very long story).
I never heard of this play, but it might have been described in the New Yorker. Trouble is, the 'what's happening in town' stuff involves me clutching a magnifying glass (I can read it sans magnifier for a while but it's tiring) and goes on for a lot of interesting pages. I tend to give up.
A show closesafter 113 nights is just below average. It got mixed reviews.
Thanks, edgar, for posting this. I was a child from six to ten living at the concentration camp in Northern California, Tule Lake. Some years ago when we visited Los Angeles' Japanese town museum, they had a replica of the barracks we lived in. Emotion overtook me for a few seconds. I didn't realize our home was so small, one section of a small barracks build from wood and covered with tar paper. The winters were harsh with snow. We had one pot belly stove fueled by coal. We had communal laundry and open toilets in the center of the block. I remember it still, and I'm now 80 years old.
Children can acclimate to conditions more easily than adults. I can't imagine the suffering of so many who lost property and businesses.
I have a feeling a movie producer will want to work it over and film it.
My family lived in the Sawtelle area for year, walked to it, as told by them as being mocked, on their way to church, probably early 20's.
I cannot say that I lived the devastation, but I can say, as a person born around the early 40's, soon moved to teethe in Ohio, that I want this kind of stuff all gone.
It was a West Coast thing. Some families moved in land to escape being imprisoned. My wife's family moved to Colorado, and lived with a German family on a farm.
I am pretty sure there was one of these camps in Texas. I think it was pointed out to me, at least what is in that spot today. It was more than fifty years ago, so I may be off on this. Aside from you, I have known personally one other person who was in a camp. Since we were in California, it is possible you could have seen him. I no longer know his name.
I'm interested, really?
I speak as one who, years later, when we ended up living with her, she would sometimes go on about japs. Much later, when I knew more, I'd try to give her a clue. Too late the phalarope.
I can get it about war fear. Her late husband was someone I think of as ok. She later hated me (I'd had an abortion, news apparently by my mother as I had asked for help for rent money). I also smelled of 'maryajuana'. Oddly, I'd not then tried it. I suspect my abortion came from the neighbor, long story.
I guess I lived the right wing all by myself while young.
One of my uncles was a German. He was big and rough. He told how some people tried to harass him over the war and how he beat up some of them, by palming his hammer's head and hitting them with his thusly weighted fist. I don't think many people wanted to mess with him. For all that, he was a good old man. I miss the old fart.
You're right; there was one in Texas. The one in Tule Lake, California, also had a prison for Germans and Italians. I didn't know about them until many years later when they had a pilgrimage that we attended.
I did not know a lot of that information.
I went to grade school, mostly in Fresno. We were so divers that I only knew from reading how the groups divide and fight each other. My classmates were Portuguese, Black American, Mexican, Armenian, Japanese and American Indian, besides the Okie types like myself.
It's always been my knowledge that there were many Armenians in Fresno. My wife lived in Parlier.
Which brings up a story about a famous armeian, story that has nothing to do with me. Nag me if I fail to tell more. Meantime, trying to remember.
My big brother was blood brother to one of the Indians. They were, I think, Pimas. He went to their camp by the railroad track most Friday evenings and often stayed into Saturday morning. The camp was for railroad workers. My brother and his friend spoke of growing up to work for the railroad for two dollars an hour.
When you remember, share it.
I spelled armenian wrong, aack.
A good friend of my first gallery business partner somehow found (I forget now quite how, that was in 1974) a suitcase filled with William Saroyan's pages and pages of writing. I remember them trying to figure out what to do with it, but not whatever happened to it.
yeh I was gonna give you a thums down for misspelling Armenian. My one great grndad was an ARmenian , from some of his uniforms he musta been transvestite
I worked in two separate but sort of connected labs, one university, one private, with an Armenian guy, really wonderful man, last name Sarkisian, just like the corner store guy in my childhood. Good apparently happy family. He invited a lot of us to see shows in old time Hollywood; ehBeth and I have talked about it, all the belly dancing.. If I remember, he was from Jaffa as a youngster.
I should add - Tak already knows this - that my long time terrific landscape architecture boss/mentor, Michael, was born in a camp, not one in California, but Wyoming. I guess they spread the dismal business around the west. He's three years younger than me, so born in '44.
As the landscape design business has pretty routine ups and downs, he would joke with me that when we got old we would share a bench, wrapped in old clothes, hoping for some coffee. Outside our first studio window there was a bus bench sometimes occupied by The Screamer, a woman in deep trouble; she was never there long as she would either move or be picked up by police or ambulance or who?, not remembering now. I think I later learned some denouement, as usual I don't remember the details. Michael and I still remember her plight.
Looking back and remembering my aunt who lived near Sawtelle and hated Japs (yes, it was in wartime), gives me chills. She wasn't an awful person. Was rather uneducated but not stupid, loved her husband, missed him badly after his death. The odd thing about hate is that it infects good ordinary people too.