Review: The Art of Gaman

Theatre 503 (London) until 27th Oct
By Dipika Guha
Directed by Ailin Conant

What a lovely play this is, full of symbolism, analogies, a marvelous use of visual effects and some very touching performances. I admit there was a tear or two in my eyes as the final scene closed. Not much can do that. Something really has to resonate with me.

You come away understanding in some small way the meaning of ‘Gaman’ in Japanese. Its different connotations are touched upon during the performance, from the cultural expectations on Japanese women at that time and throughout the life of the main character Tomomi as she adapts to living in America during World War Two, just before Hiroshima and on through to today. This internalization of your thoughts, wants and needs in order to do what you think is right, or expected, will connect with many women and also the LGBTQ+ communities.

There is so much to try and put into one small review here. I think that reflects just how much was incorporated into the storyline. The Art of Gaman explores the effects of internment on Japanese families in America during the war, the Hiroshima bomb, cultural displacement, US/Japanese cultural differences, post-war hopes and realities and hetero-normative expectations of marriage for someone discovering and exploring same-sex attraction. I’ve probably missed out quite a lot here and the play takes a little while to settle in as you acclimatize to all that is being portrayed. Once you do, things make a little more sense.

I have to commend both actors who played Tomomi, (Tomoko Komura and You-Ri Yamanaka – younger and older Tomomi respectively), for creating a connection with the audience that carried us through all her trials and tribulations. Running through the play we see Tomomi with her love, both in actual encounters and dream-like scenes. These were sensitively portrayed, fitting in very well with the overall storyline. This was another strong female role, (ably played by Alice Dillon), and again carried the audience along as a contrast to Tomomi’s internalized thoughts and feelings. That final scene between them was something I hope to hold in my memory for some time.

This was a small cast, with most playing multiple characters. Sometimes confusing as you tried to figure out who they were in each scene. Mark Ota Takeshi and Philip Desmeules provided some great characterizations in their supporting male roles.

Finally, did I mention the fish? It’s something that runs throughout the play and in some way acts to hold everything together. This undercurrent of analogy starts off small and builds to something that is well timed and so appropriate in the final scene. I wonder how many people came away aspiring to be that golden dragon?

© Grace Johnstone 2018

Running until 27th Oct 2018. Book now .

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