West Meets East

There have been many misconceptions about geisha, the most common being that they are a fancy Japanese version of prostitutes. Fortunately, more is now known about these impeccably groomed women, who are, in fact, "professional party guests." In Randall David Cook's compelling and jolting drama, Sake With the Haiku Geisha, playing at the Perry Street Theater, we meet a geisha (Angela Lin) who only speaks in haiku, thus earning the name Haiku Geisha. She spends most of the play nearly hidden by the set's shimmering cloth walls, silently listening to the comedic, touching, and tragic stories of three tourists.

Midway through the play, the set self-destructs, noisily dropping its metal bars to the floor, where they land in a heap of fallen curtains. On an eerily bare stage lit only by an orange light, the Haiku Geisha springs to life. She moves with power and conviction, performing a graceful dance that ends as suddenly as it begins. Facing the audience, she hunches her shoulders, sheds her robe, and stands before us in a starched white shirt and stiff black business skirt. It is here that her heartrending story begins.

However, before we reach this climactic moment where the mysterious geisha boldly bares her soul, we watch her persuade three seemingly perky tourists to slowly reveal theirs. They are members of a "worldwide gathering of teachers" who have traveled to Japan to share their culture with the students, though their host suspects the teachers' praise of his country is insincere. He solicits the aid of the Haiku Geisha to uncover the truth.

An Englishwoman named Charlotte (Emma Bowers) complains that she constantly felt illiterate, everyone criticized her noisy shoes, and all the tea was "green like sewage." A homosexual man from America named Parker (Jeremy Hollingworth) feels alienated by the lack of gay men and the ridicule he endured for being one. The third tourist, a Canadian woman named Brianna (Fiona Gallagher), is appalled at the sight of students saluting a Hitler float. She hits a sensitive nerve, taunting, "How would you like it if I made a float of an atomic bomb?"

With the mention of "atomic bomb," the play's tone instantly changes, marked by the set's collapse, which ends the tourists' stories and launches into a Japanese perspective.

There is a chilling scene between a father (Ikuma Isaac) and a son, Ichihiro Hashimoto (David Shih), where Hashimoto refuses to speak English. Furious at his disobedience, Father describes to him the losses their family suffered when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He orders the family to speak English because it is vital that they understand the language of the country that did this. He stresses the need to not only "connect" with potential enemies but to "communicate" with them, in the hopes of preventing such a horrific event from ever occurring again.

When Brianna learns that the students who built the Hitler float did not know about the Holocaust and only admire Hitler as a good speaker, she screams that it is wrong to honor someone without acknowledging the destruction his leadership has caused. The Japanese men remain stony-faced through her scolding, perhaps because they are thinking the same about America's attitude toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Everyone in this play is searching for understanding, whether it is tourists struggling to make sense of new words, students in Japan trying to comprehend ours, or broken families unable to grasp the concept of peace with a country responsible for the death of their loved ones. The Haiku Geisha is the only character to lay her past on the table and then embrace it as part of herself, for better or worse. Her story overcomes the language barrier others have succumbed to, enabling this play to succeed on a level where its characters could not. Sake With the Haiku Geisha not only connects with its audience; it communicates.

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