Santa Anita '42 (play)

One of the earliest plays to depict the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, playwright Allan Knee's Santa Anita '42 premiered off-Broadway in 1975 and was revived in 1986–87.

The story centers on the Itos, an Issei family with a Nisei son. In the play's first act, we meet Tamako, as she arrives as a picture bride in the early 1920s to meet her much older husband, Satoru. Though unhappy in her marriage, the couple has a son they name Michael. Later, Tamako has an affair with a white engineer named Paul. The second act depicts the family's incarceration at the Santa Anita Assembly Center in 1942. The play climaxes with the now eighteen year old Michael's death at the hand of camp guard while making an inflammatory speech after being turned down by the army due to his Japanese ancestry.

Santa Anita '42 premiered in a 1973–74 production by Playwrights Horizons, followed by a 1975 production at the Chelsea Theater. Both were directed by Steven Robman and featured the same main cast with Gerrie Lani Miyazaki at Tamako, Conrad Yama as Satoru, Stephen D. Newman as Paul, and Sab Shimono as Michael. In 1986, the Penguin Repertory produced the play at the Barn Playhouse in Stoney Point, New York, with Tina Chen playing Tamako. A 1987 production at the Illinois Theatre Center starred Cheryl Hamada. A theater yearbook noted the negative tenor of reviews of the 1975 production; Edith Oliver of The New Yorker called it "wispy and confusing" and wrote that the story "may be more suitable to television than to the stage." In a review of the 1986 production, Alvin Klein of the New York Times called the writing "belabored" and the play "a pallid evening."

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

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For More Information

Christiansen, Richard. "Melodrama Mars Real-Life Sorrow of Japanese Internment Camps." Chicago Tribune, Sept. 22, 1987.

Hischak, Thomas S. American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969–2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 86.

Klein, Alvin. "Theater: Penguin Presents 'Santa Anita '42." New York Times, Nov. 16, 1986.

Oliver, Edith. The New Yorker, March 10, 1975, 64–65.