Sisters Matsumoto (play)

Play by acclaimed playwright Philip Kan Gotanda that takes places shortly after the end of World War II and explores the return of three adult sisters to their California farm after their wartime incarceration.

The author of numerous plays that draw on the Japanese American experience, Gotanda notes wartime incarceration and its continuing impact on the community in several of them (among them, Song for a Nisei Fisherman, The Wash, and Fish Head Soup), but has never written a play set in the concentration camps. Set in the immediate aftermath of the war, Sisters Matsumoto comes closest; as literary scholar Stephen Sumida writes, "this drama is Gotanda's presentation of what in general is the most public narrative in Japanese American history—the internment and its aftermath."[1] In writing the play, Gotanda drew on his mother's family, which also hailed from the Stockton, California area and which also included three sisters, one of them married to a physician from Hawai'i. Gotanda was supported in the writing of the play by a grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund.

Sisters Matsumoto takes place near Stockton, California, in late 1945, when the three Matsumoto sisters return to the family farm after their wartime incarceration. Their father had been a successful farmer and community leader before the war, and the girls had enjoyed relatively privileged lives. However, the war dramatically changed their fortunes: they had been forced to sell their luxurious home in the run up to exclusion, their father had died while incarcerated at Rohwer, and the farm they returned to had been neglected by its caretaker and vandalized. A surprise development further jeopardizes their future. The sisters and their significant others—Grace, the eldest and most attached to the farm, and her Kibei intellectual husband Hideo; Chiz, fun-loving middle child with a baby and two boys staying with her sister in LA, and her boisterous, Hawai'i-born physician husband Bola; and reflective Rose, the youngest, and her shy suitor Henry Sakai—try to assess the situation to figure out what paths to take in the postwar world. In addition to illuminating the continuing impact of the forced removal and incarceration on the postwar lives of Japanese Americans, the play touches on conflict in camp between those who advocated collaboration and those who protested, on the range of economic perils fostered by removal, and on the impact of the Nisei soldiers.

Sisters Matsumoto premiered at the Seattle Repertory Theatre on January 11, 1999 in a co-production with San Jose Repertory Theatre, and Asian American Theater Company that was directed by Sharon Ott. The co-production moved on to the San Jose Repertory Theatre in April. Others to produce the play included the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston (2000) Asian Stories in American Theatre in Washington, DC (2000), and East-West Players in Los Angeles (2002).[2]

Reviews for the play were mixed, with reviewers for mainstream publications in particular, skewing largely negative. Literary scholar Samuel Park analyzes the latter phenomenon in a chapter of his Ph.D. dissertation, finding much of the criticism stemming from "the dominant culture's ideological biases" and the playwright's rejection of "the stereotyped performativity of race."[3]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

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Productions

Seattle Repertory Theatre. Directed by Sharon Ott. Jan. 11 to Feb. 13, 1999.

San Jose Repertory Theatre. Directed by Sharon Ott. Apr. 23 to May 23, 1999.

Huntington Theatre Company, Boston. Directed by Sharon Ott. Jan. 5 to 30, 2000.

Asian Stories in American (ASIA) Theatre, Washington, DC. Directed by Edu. Bernardino. Oct. 13 to Nov. 19, 2000.

East-West Players, Los Angeles. Directed by Chay Yew. Jan. 23 to Feb. 17, 2002.

For More Information

Playwright's website: http://www.philipkangotanda.com/plays/. Includes downloadable copy of the play's script.

Gotanda, Philip Kan. No More Cherry Blossoms: Sisters Matsumoto and Other Plays. Foreword by Stephen H. Sumida. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005. 3–75.

Kaplin, Randy Barbara. "Philip Kan Gotanta (1951– ). In Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Miles Xian Liu. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. 69–88.

Park, Samuel. "The Performance of Race in Asian American Drama." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 2006.

Footnotes

  1. Stephen H. Sumida, "Foreword," No More Cherry Blossoms: Sisters Matsumoto and Other Plays by Philip Kan Gotanda (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), x.
  2. Randy Barbara Kaplin, "Philip Kan Gotanta (1951– )," in Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Miles Xian Liu (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002), 85; Misha Berson, "Coming Home—New Play Explores Life for Japanese Americans After Internment," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 7, 1999, accessed on Feb. 26, 2015 at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19990107&slug=2937364.
  3. Samuel Park, The Performance of Race in Asian American Drama," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 2006, 38.