BWW Review: SCT's NADESHIKO - Two Stories with Not Much to Say
In Keiko Green's "Nadeshiko", currently getting its world premiere from Sound Theatre Company, there are two stories happening on the stage. Only one of the stories is very well fleshed out and only one is very interesting and unfortunately they're not the same story. With stiff and stilted dialogue, pacing, and acting, the play amounts to a look into an interesting part of history most are unfamiliar with but doesn't explore that history in an interesting way.
In the play we meet Risa (Maile Wong), a young Japanese American who's lost her job and so she decides to turn to sex work to make a buck. But she's the worst sex worker ever as all she ever does is whine about how she can't go through with what her clients want her to do and then proceed to steal their money. Enter the ethereal presence of Nadeshiko (Ina Chang) and one of the few engaging and likable characters in the piece who breaks the fourth wall and explains that she has a story to tell but then keeps refusing to tell it. Eventually she shares the tale of her younger self in World War II Japan who works as a caregiver to soldiers flying off to their deaths.
If you're looking for a coherent story with a plot and interesting characters who grow over the course of the play, then you're bound to be very frustrated. The historical aspect of the Nadeshiko is only teased upon in Act One and then is rushed through in Act Two amounting to a clichéd romance worthy of a Lifetime channel movie. The modern-day story is much more prevalent and much more annoying as Risa refuses to follow through with her client's (Greg Lyle-Newton) fetishes only to leave and then keep coming back uninvited until a weird friendship forms where she needles him for personal information about his life and fetish only to mock and insult him once she finally works it out. And this was supposed to be her empowering moment.
If all this weren't bad enough the pacing of the piece as directed by Kaytlin McIntrire is awful with no one listening to each other on stage and simply waiting for their next line with pauses in between the lines that you could drive trucks through. Not to mention that Green has attempted to mask her lack of decent dialogue with a script filled with ellipses. No, I didn't read the script to see them but I could hear them repeatedly as the actors would say the first few words of the line, come to the ellipse and treat it as a period resulting in a stiff and unnatural line read.
Wong does this the worst as she whines her way through the piece with very little inflection. Also quite one note is Mi Kang who, as Risa's cousin and more experienced sex worker Sue, seems to have one speed, bitter. She varies it a bit when she plays the younger Nadeshiko but without much character difference to tell the two apart. Lyle-Newton plays the client as a meek victim which gets old. The only engaging actors in the piece were Chang as the hilarious spirit and Josh Kenji as the young pilot but each were given way too little to do and didn't lend much to what little story there was.
If you're going to delve into a piece of little known history then you need to have an engaging story to back it up otherwise it's a documentary that simply states, "this is a thing that happened". And if you're going to try and tie it to modern day people with whom you want us to sympathize then give us sympathetic characters. So, with unlikable characters, stiff dialog and acting, and lack of story I give Sound Theatre Company's "Nadeshiko" a quite uninterested NAH. A story with potential that wasn't told very well.
"Nadeshiko" from Sound Theatre Company performs at the Center Theatre through May 6th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.soundtheatrecompany.org.