Allegiance: A Review
Dear Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione,
Very rarely do I go to the theatre and feel the emotions brought about by seeing Allegiance. The experience itself felt like an adventure, an uncommon glimpse into a world heavily draped in shadow. It is billed as a story about the Japanese family living in internment during World War II. I saw it as a story about America and the grey area of morality that conflicts within people in times of great fear. Allegiance draws upon the emotions of cultures conflicting, both with and within different people, and it does it very well.
I consider myself a tough audience member, locked into a director’s viewpoint and analyzing each movement and blocking choice. Despite this, Allegiance created a strong sense of investment within me, and I often found myself drifting into awe at how beautifully synchronized scenes transitioned within another and how every actor had their place. There was no wasted movement. Every fall, every shift was purposeful and natural at the same time. The stage ebbed and flowed seamlessly. As a director, I could sense no blocking, but rather I saw people living on the stage. This was most prevalent in the scenes that displayed no voice, no dance, but only faces and sound. The scene documenting the end of the war, with the bombs over Hiroshima, was piercing both in sound and in emotional impact. It felt like 1945 all over again. Director Stafford Arima blocked one heck of a show. It was exceptional.
As a musical, the actors, score, and songs more than hold their own. The instrumentals were a beautiful accompaniment to the very talented cast. Lea Salonga’s portrayal of Kei Kimura more than held its own, and her prowess as an accomplished singer and actress blew me away. Some songs felt as if they were made to be sung by her. Telly Leung provides a great performance as the male lead, Sam Kimura, never missing a note and showing his strengths in movement on dance numbers. George Takei played two roles, the older version of Sam Kimura and Oji-san. Oji-san was not originally in the script, but his presence in an otherwise darker piece is a welcome one. Takei’s display of simple wit and casual humor is light and heartwarming, and it is an interesting contrast to his darker, more brooding interpretation of Sam Kimura. The show as a whole is loaded with star power, but because of that I wonder if it too heavily relies on that to bring in patrons. The songs, though wonderfully performed, don’t stand out as much on their own. Time will tell how well Allegiance fares minus its talented debut cast. Despite that, the show overall is storytelling at its finest.
For such a sensitive topic, such as the Japanese American internment, Allegiance handles it with grace. At the same time, it was very difficult to deduce a true antagonist from the play, being as there were so many political groups involved. Who was at fault for the suffering the Kimura family had to endure? Mike Masaoka? The Japanese? Americans? The Japanese American community itself? It can be none or all of these at once. Allegiance is a very human look at war and what it means to survive it. It’s a wonderful experience that successfully captures the tragedy of World War II, the turmoil of family, and what it meant to grow up in an America that did not give liberty and justice to all.
After the show, I felt emotions coming from the cast that were not much different from the feelings I experienced upon completing my first Pilipino Cultural Celebration (PCC) as a student at the University of California, San Diego. Cultural shows, in my experience, are as much an adventure for the cast and crew as they are for the audiences that watch them, if not more so. Working on a PCC feels like creating a vessel of awareness for an otherwise empty block of American history, much like Allegiance was trying to achieve. Before coming to college, all I knew about performance art were the classics: Shakespeare and the like. By my last PCC in 2006, I had learned about local Asian American musicians, political turmoil in my home country, and the beauty of Carlos Bulosan’s writing. There was a great sense of pride representing myself in a PCC production, which was so much bigger than the pages I had to read in English classes. PCC was the story of my Filipino colleagues. It was the history of my family’s people. It was a reflection of me. I had enjoyed the theatre before discovering the experience that is a culturally involved show, but it wasn’t until PCC that I realized how much I would be representing my identity by being a part of one. And, I didn’t know how much I would love it and love being an artist. An Asian American artist with the power in their hands and mind to make beautiful art beyond the scope of a history book is not just exemplified by Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione in Allegiance. It is exemplified by Asian American writers and artists working at the grassroots level at community theaters and college campuses all across the country. After all, this is where Jay Kuo got his start.
Ed Delos Reyes
Artistic Director, Nomads Theatre Company