(with Amazon search)
Type too small?
Even plays that had successful Broadway runs, won a Pulitzer Prize and made it to the silver screen are sometimes best left to their past glories. John Patrick's 1952 The Teahouse of the August Moon, currently being given a limited revival by the Pan Asian Repertory Company is a case in point. It's a period piece that has in recent times been seen largely in community theaters and for good reason. The comedy about the American military in postwar Japan, has not aged well, retaining neither the charm or the humor that kept it running on Broadway for 1027 performances with David Wayne as Sakini, the key character -- a crafty Okinawan who helps his village to outsmart a bumptious Colonel and his bumbling Captain.
The Teahouse of the August Moon
The company's raison d'être for bringing Teahouse back to the New York stage is valid enough. In the fifties it was standard practice to have parts like Sakini played by nonAsians like Wayne (and Marlon Brando in the 1956 film. With Ernest Abuba in the leading role the Pan Asian Repertory Company is in effect reclaiming Sakini's identity. But while Abuba is a good enough actor to give a solid reading to the role, he can't give new life to a play that refuses to sparkle in the year 2000.
Not having seen either Broadway production or the movie, I can't say if those box office successes were true comic sparklers or if people were more easily amused by rather simplistic slapstick humor. Robert Klingelhoefer's set looks remarkably like a picture I tracked down of the original and yet it has a makeshift, unappealing look on the stage of Playhouse 91 which indicates that the director may be partially to blame for the shortcomings of this production.
While this company and NATCO has done admirable work in deflecting Asian stereotype and casting Asians in parts not previously available to them, Teahouse seems a questionable choice on which to focus its energies. The story revolves around the an army colonel during the post World War II occupation determined to spread American deomocracy in an Okinawan village. The villagers outfox the Colonel and his Captain so that a Pentagon shaped school house becomes the teahouse of the title. The savvy Sakini has the last word in teaching the Americans a true lesson about democracy. Alas, the story that's often referred to as charming seems to have lost most of its charm.
Peter Von Berg sputters and splutters and makes a proper fool of himself as Colonel Wainwright Purdy III and Scott Klavan is adequate as the easily outsmarted Captain Fisby. Except for Abuba, the Okinawan contingent of the story seems bent on playing their parts to maximize the slapstick.
By the end of a very long first act I was overwhelmed by the cliches of content and performances and seeing no chance of improvement, I left -- something I rarely if ever do.
|THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON
Written by John Patrick, based on the novel by Vern Sneider
Directed by Ron Nakahara
With: Ernest Abuba, Scott Klavan, Ako, Peter Von Berg, J.B. Barricklo, John Daggett,
Kevin Bergen, Tran T. Thuc Hanh, Carol Honda, Tom Matsusaka, David Kimo Ige,
Paul Keoni Chun
Set Design: Robert Klingelhofer
Lighting Design: Jeffrey Cady
Costume Design: Terry Leong
Sound Design: Peter Griggs
Running time: 2 hours and 30 including one intermission
Playhouse 91, 316 E. 91 St. (betw. 1st and York Avs), 279-4200
1/12/2000-2/13/2000; opening 1/19/2000
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 1/16 performance