Plays on incarceration


A wide range of plays that incorporate some significant aspect of the Japanese American removal and incarceration story have been produced since the 1950s. A list of such plays is below.

The list includes only plays that have been either published or performed before an audience made up of the general public, whether in a full production or as part of a workshop or staged reading. Though most are set at least in part in the concentration camps, the list also includes plays set during the war years but not in camp, plays set in the resettlement period, and plays set after the war that include flashbacks to the camps or involve significant issues traceable to the incarceration.

The range of styles and subjects is a broad. The first produced play set in camp in likely Hiroshi Kashiwagi's Laughter and False Teeth (1954). Other pioneering works include Sook-tek Oh's Tondemonai—Never Happen! (1970) and Momoko Iko's Gold Watch. In 1981–82, two Asian American theater companies—East-West Players (EWP) in Los Angeles and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre (PART) in New York—devoted their seasons to plays on the incarceration, inspired in part by the ongoing movement for redress and reparations. EWP's slate included Richard France's Station J, Dom Magwili's Christmas in Camp, Wakako Yamauchi's 12–1–A, and Edward Sakamoto's Pilgrimage; PART's also produced Station J, as well as Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro's Behind Enemy Lines and Lionelle Hamanaka's Rohwer.

In recent years, there have been several musicals (the first was Gary Iwamoto's Miss Minidoka 1943, produced by the Northwest Asian American Theatre in 1987; others include Christmas in Camp, Christmas in Camp II, A Jive Bomber's Christmas, Baseball Saved Us, The Camp Dance: The Music & the Memories, Manzanar: Story of an American Family, and most recently, Allegiance), a number that tell the story through a multi-ethnic lens (Bronzeville, Conjunto, Harry Kelly, and Valley of the Heart), and two that might be described as puppet shows (E.O. 9066 and The Pink Dress). Several tell the story of real historical figures, including two on Gordon Hirabayashi (Point of Order: Hirabayashi v. U.S. and Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi/Hold These Truths). Several have also been developed specifically for performance in schools (The Ancestor's Box, Baseball Saved Us, Justice at War, and Within the Silence).

There has been no published study specifically on plays having to do with Japanese American incarceration.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Kurahashi, Yuko. Asian American Culture on Stage: The History of the East West Players. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999.

Lee, Josephine. Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

Morioka-Steffens, Tamayo Irene. "Asian Pacific American Identities: An Historical Perspective Through the Theatre Productions of the East West Players, 1965 to 2000. Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School, 2003.

Uno, Roberta. Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

Xu, Wenying. Historical Dictionary of Asian American Literature and Theater. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Scarecrow Press, 2012.

Plays that Reference Forced Removal/Incarceration

12-1-A (Wakako Yamauchi, 1982)

Allegiance (Jay Kuo, Lorenzo Thione, and Marc Acito, 2012)

The Ancestors' Box (Christina Hamlett, 2013)

Baseball Saved Us (Ken Mochizuki, 2003)

Behind Enemy Lines (Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro, 1982)

The Betrayed (Hiroshi Kashiwagi, 2010)

Block 8 (Matthew Ivan Bennett, 2009)

Bronzeville (Tim Toyama and Aaron Woolfolk, 2009)

Cowboy Samurai (Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro, 1991)

The Camp Dance: The Music & the Memories (Soji Kashiwagi, 2003)

Christmas in Camp (Dom Magwili, 1981, 1985)

Citizen 13559 (Naomi Iizuka, 2006)

Conjunto (Oliver Mayer, 2003)

Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi (see Hold These Truths)

Dust Storm (Rick Foster, 2002)

E.O. 9066 (Liebe Wetzel, 2003)

Gila River (Lane Nishikawa, 1999)

Gold Watch (Momoko Iko, 1972)

Harry Kelly (Harold Heifezt, 1974)

Heart Mountain (G. Bruce Smith, 2012)

Hold These Truths (Jeanne Sakata, 2007)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford; adapted by Annie Lareau, 2012)

Innocent When You Dream (Ken Narasaki, 2007)

A Jive Bomber's Christmas (Saachiko and Dom Magwili, 1994)

Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese Internment Camps (Mimi Jo Katano, Wendy Lement, and Jordan Winer, 1994)

Laughter and False Teeth (Hiroshi Kashiwagi, 1954)

Manzanar: An American Story (Philip Kan Gotanda, 2005)

Manzanar: Story of an American Family (Dan Taguchi and Rus McCoy, 2002)

Miss Minidoka 1943 (Gary Iwamoto, 1987)

Miné, A Name for Herself (Mary H. Curtin and Theresa Larkin, 2005)

No-No Boy (Ken Narasaki, 2010)

Old Man River (Cynthia Gates Fujikawa, 1997)

Pilgrimage (Edward Sakamoto, 1982)

The Pink Dress (Leslie K. Gray, 2005)

Point of Order: Hirabayashi v. U.S. (R.A. Shiomi, 1983)

Question 27, Question 28 (Chay Yew, 2004)

A Question of Loyalty (Hiroshi Kashiwagi, 1990)

Rohwer (Lionelle Hamanaka, 1982)

Santa Anita '42 (Allan Knee, 1975)

Shoulders (Jeffrey Kinghorn, 2012)

Sisters Matsumoto (Philip Kan Gotanda, 1999)

Station J (Richard France, 1981)

Tachinoki (Robert Schenkkan, 1987)

Tondemonai—Never Happen! (Soon-Tek Oh, 1970)

The Truth of the Matter (Karen Ishizukia, 1981)

Unvanquished (Holly Yasui, 1990)

Valley of the Heart (Luis Valdez, 2013)

What We Could Carry (Nikiko Masumoto, 2011)

With Darkness Behind Us, Daylight Has Come (Jude Narita, 2001)

Within the Silence (Ken Mochizuki, 1998)