|Theatre Department Production of 'Kokoro' Presents Thought-Provoking Clash of Cultures
February 09, 2011
Contact: Bill Giduz
|Charlotte actress Jenny Chen and Patrick Scully '12 are enmeshed in a clash of American and Japanese cultures in 'Kokoro'
The Davidson College theatre department invites the public to its production of Kokoro (True Heart), a gripping story of crossed cultures written by contemporary Japanese-American playwright Velina Hasu Houston.
The play begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, through Saturday, Feb. 19, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 20. All performances are in the Rupert T. Barber Theatre in the Cunningham Theatre Center. It contains adult language and themes, and is recommended for ages 14 and up. Tickets are available by calling 704-894-2135 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, or they may be purchased online at www.davidson.edu/tickets.
The play is also serving as the touchstone for five academic talks and discussions at the college. Those include two opportunities to discuss the play with playwright Velina Hasu Houston. The complete listing of those events is below.
First staged in 1994, Kokoro (True Heart) concerns Yasako, an isolated, voiceless Japanese woman living in the United States with her beloved daughter and philandering husband. In her culturally rootless despair, Yasako is pushed to a desperate traditional Japanese practice. While it is abhorred in the United States, her native Japanese culture views the act as a way to restore honor to the family.
Yasako partially botches her actions, and is brought to justice for her act. She is thrust into the complex American legal system and a media furor, while continuing to be tortured by her yearning for spiritual escape. Playwright Velina Hasu Houston sets the play in a supernatural world of magical realism, where ancestors and spirits wander freely through the afterlife and the present to communicate with Yasako.
The play is being directed by Tamara Ruppart, a 2000 Davidson graduate who went on to earn an M.F.A. degree in directing in 2009 from New York's The New School for Drama. Ruppart has lived in Japan and specializes in Japanese literature and drama. Her interest in modern Japanese drama was sparked by a class in multicultural drama she took during her senior year at Davidson from Professor of English Ann Fox. That class included a reading of Kokoro (True Heart). Ruppart read more of Houston's work before graduate school, and produced several Japanese plays as part of her graduate studies. She has been working recently in film, and hopes eventually to transform stories like Kokoro (True Heart) into movies.
Ruppart said she was drawn to the work because it manifests the importance of cultural understanding. "During my year in Japan, I was struck by the seemingly different characteristics of the cultures. But the human story is the same everywhere. This play bridges the line between American attitudes of justice and Japanese traditions, and forces the audience to think about the consequences of misunderstanding."
She continued, "In challenging the audience to empathize with the accused, the play illuminates the degree to which culture and spirituality shape our perception of truth and morality."
Though she has done some scene work on Kokoro (True Heart) during graduate school, Ruppart said she has never seen the play produced. The play premiered in 1994, and has been produced about a dozen times at places including The Actors Workshop in Boston, Sacramento Theatre Company, Williams College, the 28th Street Theatre in New York City, and Hiroshima University.
|(l) Ellen Goodson '11 plays the other woman who comes between Yasako Yamashta (Jenny Chen) and her husband Hiro (Patrick Scully '12 in 'Kokoro.'
The cast of six includes five Davidson students, and Charlotte actress Jenny Chen in the lead role of Yasako Yamashita. Patrick Scully '12 plays the part of her husband, Hiro, Ellen Goodson '11 plays the mistress, Cea Rubin '13 plays the spirit of the grandmother, Christa Johnson '12 plays the lawyer and Ana Rodriguez '12 plays the neighbor.
Ruppart said Chen brings a soft grace to the character of Yasako. "She is a Chinese American who understands the gentle spiritual quality of Yasako," Ruppart said. Scully, a theatre major, also brings a degree of cultural understanding to his role because he lived in Japan for a number of years.
Velina Hasu Houston is a Los Angeles-based playwright whose curriculum vitae of publications, honors, awards, grants, academic history, appointments and professional theatre experience includes hundreds of entries and stretches to 40 pages.
Houston currently teaches at the University of Southern California as Professor of Theatre, Director of Dramatic Writing, Associate Dean of Faculty, and Resident Playwright at the School of Theatre. She is also working on a commission with LA Opera to create a contemporary opera about Los Angeles.
She has written more than 20 original plays and scores of other works as an essayist, poet, author, editor and screenwriter. Many of her produced works draw from her multiracial experience, as well as from the immigrant experiences of her family. Her mother was Japanese and her father was an African American-Native American.
Houston's work in general focuses on the shifting boundaries of identity with regard to gender, culture, and ethnicity. She also explores stories related to women in society. She is best known for her play Tea, which portrays the lives of Japanese war brides who moved to the United States with their American servicemen husbands.
Davidson's Department of Theatre selected to produce Kokoro (True Heart) because the issues it raises could be the subject of an enriching campus-wide dialogue. Discussions were held with others in the college academic community to develop a seminar series. Those remaining academic events are listed here. All are open to the public at no admission charge:
Friday, Feb. 18
4 p.m. in the Sprinkle Room of Alvarez College Union
A conversation and coffee with playwright Velina Hasu Houston.
Friday, Feb. 18
Approx. 9:45 p.m. in The Barber Theatre of the Cunningham Theatre Center
The public is invited to a post-show discussion of Kokoro (True Heart) with playwright Velina Hasu Houston, director Tamara Ruppart Zvargulis, and the cast.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.