BWW Reviews: Entertaining New Work WHITE TO GRAY at Mustard Seed Theatre

Rob Maesaka, a St. Louis playwright, receives the opportunity to have one of his works premiered with Mustard Seed Theatre's presentation of his play, White to Gray. It's an engaging piece of theatre that tells an interesting story that's dramatic and even occasionally funny at times. Judging a new play can sometimes be a challenge because it's unique; there's never been a production for the viewer to gauge it against. But for viewers and critics alike, that's the fun part of seeing something fresh. We have no expectations going in, so we're being engaged by the actors and playwright for the first time. On the whole, I would say this is an entertaining show that features a number of good performances, and it covers a period of time that is ripe with dramatic possibilities that the writer explores. Maesaka's play, and Mustard Seed's production of it is definitely worthy of your time and attention.

The play is set in the days preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Initially set in Hawaii, the action moves to a boat headed for San Francisco when the attack occurs. This is important because there are a number of Japanese Americans on board when the strike happens, and all of them are treated as potential spies who may have been attempting to flee the danger zone. As history has shown us, we interred these people in camps (along with thousands of Japanese Americans around the country) because of our fear that they might be somehow connected, by race, to the people who sank our battleships and devastated our airfields on the island. While these orders were mandated by the government under obviously extenuating circumstances, they're still a reminder of what can happen even in a "free" nation during a time of war.

Peter, nicely performed by the always reliable Ben Nordstrom, is the son of a wealthy man who cannot seem to find his own niche, preferring to live the lifestyle of a playboy, until he reconnects with a former love, Sumiko Yushido. Fox Smith, who started out haltingly in the role before becoming more at ease and in character as the show progressed, wants to be a journalist. When her father passes, she leaves the big island with her feisty mother. Paige Russell brings a considerable amount of humor to the proceedings with her wonderful portrayal of the elder Yushido. Traveling with Peter is his friend Jimmy, a strong Charlie Barron, who encourages Peter's pursuit of the girl, at least until he's called back into active service. Greg Lhamon (Captain), Jeff Kargus (Bartender/Crewman), Taylor Campbell (Waterman), and Chuck Brinkley (Morton) all do good work in support.

Deanna Jent's direction brings this new work to life with a lot of style. I'm reminded of a wartime (or post war) film from the 1940's that might have tried to attempt to tell a similar type of story while leavening the proceedings with plenty of pro-America propaganda. Certainly, Peter's final line and probable actions are straight out of that genre. But, the play is not so much derivative of those type of movies, but more a reflection of the political and social climate of that period in history.

Dunsi Dai's scenic design is a smartly conceived creation that's mobile enough to allow for fairly quick transitions between scenes. Maureen Berry's lighting keeps the action in focus, and Jane Sullivan's costumes fit the era. Zoe Sullivan's sound also adds atmosphere, and Meg Brinkley's props help retain the period feel.

White to Gray is entertaining and informative. It tells a compelling story, and Mustard Seed Theatre has done a very fine job of staging it. The production continues through February 22, 2015, and I urge you to support it, not just because it's by a local playwright, but because it's a really good show.

Photo credit: John Lamb

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From This Author Chris Gibson