Quote of the Day: For me “Fire in the New World” is about the journey of the Japanese Canadians from the early post World War II years through to the days just before the Redress and Reparations campaigns in both Canada and the United States began to gather steam. It’s a story very much at the heart of Full Circle’s mission, and I feel fortunate to be telling one version of this story. Rick Shiomi, Co-Artistic Director and co-founder of Full Circle Theater Company, playwright and director of Fire in the New World, the third play in a trilogy featuring noir detective Sam Shikaze.
The year is 1963, Japantown in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. What was once a thriving community of Japanese Canadians is now a shadow of what it was before WWII and the forced exclusion and internment of people of Japanese heritage. Sam Shikaze (Gregory Yang), private investigator, has a small office and a White Canadian partner, Jonathan Webster (Brian Joyce) with questionable loyalty. Roderick Alexander (Joe Allen) walks into the office and hires Shikaze to locate his missing Japanese-Canadian wife, Yumiko Alexander (Anna Hashizume). Roderick is a developer and wants to wipe out the remaining Japanese residents and bulldoze their businesses and homes, including the New World Hotel.
The action takes place on a cleverly designed stage (Set Designer Joe Stanley) with Sam’s office in the center, a street corner to the (audience) left and Rosie’s café on the right. Rosie Ohara (Alice McGlave) is fed up with the bullying, exclusion, and forced expulsion from her home on Powell Street. She appeals to Sam to help her fight the developers. Kenji Kadota (Kevin Vang) is a police officer who seems to be in the back pocket of Roderick Alexander. Mas Matsumoto (Song Kim) seems to be looking out for himself. And, Tom Williams (Alec Berchem) is a strung out hippie who is motivated by money, and sometimes weapons.
Playwright Rick Shiomi uses many of the familiar detective-noir elements to tell this story. Sam is a thoughtful, loner guy, with a jaded past. Occasionally, he turns to the audience and shares his inner thoughts and reflections on the situation. He would pause, put a hand to his face, the lights would change (great lighting design by Karin Olson) and he’d deliver his lines like he’s taking notes in his crime-solving book. We also have thugs, a missing person, a dangerous crime, and romantic sparks between the detective and the beautiful fugitive. Characters circle around each other, the desk, the truth, and their emotions, with gradual revealing of evidence and real intentions until guns are drawn in the final scenes. The music and sound effects (Sound Design by Quinci Bachman) at to the atmosphere of this noir-comedy.
Fire in the New World is the third play in Shiomi’s Sam Shikaze trilogy. He produced Yellow Fever in March 2013 at the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater in partnership with Theater Mu. I remember it well, especially the humor. The style and atmosphere of Yellow Fever carries through in Fire in the New World. Sadly, I missed Rosie’s Café, set in 1951, 12 years before Fire. Yellow Fever is set in 1973. It won several awards, played off-Broadway, toured North America and Japan.
You can see the world premiere of Fire in the New World by R.A. Shiomi at Park Square Theatre, in partnership with Full Circle Theater Company, through Nov. 6, 2022. This is a show filled with great acting and storytelling with plenty of social commentary that will make you think, and discuss on your drive home.
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Journaling Prompt: How has society, politics, and development changed the cities near you?