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Sumi (Dian Kobayashi), the heroine of Philip Kan Gotanda’s Yohen, is an aspiring potter, and the play’s title, which literally means “tiger’s ear,” is the Japanese term for a pot that has misfired in the kiln but nonetheless carries an unexpected beauty in its blotchy glaze or misshapen design. Beauty is expected in Gotanda’s plays, but it’s likely that he perceived this one’s quirky, bitter incompleteness when he named it. As with the ceramic object that turned out eye- catchingly wrong, Yohen‘s inability to sit right is its main point of interest.
After years of hidden stress, Sumi’s post–World War II marriage to a black G.I., James (David Fonteno), has shattered, since his retirement, like a dropped pot. Reliving happier times as they work through a series of attempts to glue the shards of their broken life back together, they end up with no real repair job despite the solid bonding of their mutual affection. Gotanda’s writing and Seret Scott’s direction both seem to have picked up the story’s shardlike nature, following strong, jagged scenes with meek, tentative patches of stasis and repetition. The acting has a similarly broken quality, though big, burly Fonteno and wry, dainty Kobayashi make a wonderfully mismatched visual pairing.