The Art of Gaman
Theatre 503, Helen Milne Productions
Seventeen-year-old Tomomi (Tomoko Komura) arrives from Hiroshima to join her family in the United States in 1942. She is a dislocated outsider not at all at ease with the way she is treated as a woman and a migrant.
And this makes it difficult for her to express the way she feels.
How she would like to be is often expressed by a magical radio only she can hear till she meets Virginia (Alice Dillon) who also hears it.
The play follows her through seventy-four years of marriages to men she is coldly distant from. During her younger years, the chance meeting with Virginia grows into a strong mutual attraction. In a tender scene in a cinema, Virginia inspires her to hope for a different kind of life which she romantically identifies with being “an actress”.
But the world is hostile. Her parents are interned during the years of war with Japan, her home city of Hiroshima is bombed with nuclear weapons and in the 1960s there is racial turbulence.
The story has pertinent things to say about the life of a migrant woman but it does so in too oblique a manner. The tumble of metaphors including the key one of “gaman” don’t always make sense and as you are pondering one, another one has passed by.
There are also the symbols such as the fish which is forever cropping up, and at one point a character even starts to turn into a fish, but it is not always clear what the symbol is meant to be saying.
A number of things happen that puzzle. For instance there is a scene in which Virginia persuades Tomomi’s husband Shun (Mark Ota Takeshi) to let his wife go with her to “become a film actress with Jimmy Stewart.”
Shun tells her, “you have to go at once! It’s Jimmy Stewart! Tomomi. Think of all the fish we could eat!”
Was this scene Tomomi’s fantasy, or perhaps a real if odd attempt by Virginia to get Tomomi to leave her husband? And what was its point since we never hear anything more about it or Shun.
Not that the story is difficult to follow. It could be read as a simple romance right up to its old fashioned sentimental finish but it shouldn’t. It is trying to be far more ambitious than that.
But the play lacks dramatic tension and the inability of Tomomi to communicate does not make for great dialogue.
The older Tomomi’s (You-Ri Yamanaka) husband (Philip Desmeules) tells her “I’ll never get tired of you stating the obvious the way you do. I like it.”
It is an understandable sentiment that isn’t necessarily shared by the entire audience.