VALLEY OF THE HEART EXPLORES CALIFORNIA IMPORTANT HISTORY OF JAPANESE AND MEXICAN FAMILIES
IN THE GREAT 1941 SILICON VALLEY
The founder of El Teatro Campesino, director and writer Luis Valdez calls his new work VALLEY OF THE HEART an epic story or a “memory play” about the origins of the great silicon valley. This a powerful three hour tail of two farm working families in the 1940’s Santa Clara Valley Calif. The World Premiere of VALLEY OF THE HEART begins an exciting three-year partnership between San Jose Stage Company and El Teatro Campesino that combines the important history of two superb theatre companies and will result in future co-productions and collaborations. The world premier of VALLEY OF THE HEART now at the San Jose Stage company through March 13th. The buzz a week before play even opened encouraged the producers to extend the run.
This is sure to be one of the most difficult tickets to get this winter, and is one of Valdez’ best works. Valdez, is famed for "Zoot Suit" and "La Bamba," this “Grapes of Wrath” love story about a Japanese-American girl and a Latino worker, mixed in the politics of war and race, is very personal. "My first memories are that ranch," says 74 year old Valdez, when he was a baby, his parents worked as farm workers in the fields near San Jose, the magnificent Valley of Heart's rich farmland. When Luis was 2, they put down seeds on a ranch of their own. Only later did he learn that the previous owners were Japanese-Americans who'd had their lives stolen from them when they were sent to an internment camp during World War II. This is the basis of his story that he first workshopped and staged at his own venue in San Juan Bastista.
As you enter the SJSC stage, you are handed a paper tag to wear around your neck. It is a replica of the badges Japanese Americans were required to wear as they were rounded up and sent to internment camps such as Manzanar, Tule Lake and Heart Mountain. The story is "something I've been carrying for a long time," Valdez says. After the war, his family resumed life as migrant farm workers. Around age seven, Valdez made friends with a boy from a migrant family, his new friend had a Japanese-American mother, Thelma, and a Mexican-American father, Benjamin. Now the main characters in this new work. “I think of this play as a Kabuki/Corrido because it blends both cultures. I wanted to capture the multicultural fabric of life in this state,” said Valdez. “There’s a triangulation in the play – that if you take the Japanese-American experience and contrast it with the Mexican-American experience, what ties them together is the American experience,” says Valdez.
The strong and dignified Lakin Valdez (Luis' son who just finished a successful run in ACT’s Between Riverside and Crazy) plays farmer Benjamin Montaño, who marries the daughter Teruko of the Yamaguchi family, played by the dynamic Melanie Arii Mah. The story of this couple, separated during the Japanese internment, is his memory of that same family Valdez. met as a boy. The director, Valdez, has assembled a marvelous cast to tell this story. Many of the players were part of the original workshop production at El Teatro Campesino including the powerful Gustavo Mellado who plays Cayetano Montano the Mexican father, and his adoring wife the delightful Rosa Maria Escalante. Randall Nakano plays the Japanese ranch owner, first-generation (issei) father, Ichiro Yamaguchi. He is stunning as he portrays the many facets of his life --fighting interment, the lost of his family and the stroke he suffers while imprisoned in a Federal penitentiary.
Newcomer Ryan Takemiya is excellent in his first regional production, he plays the Japanese son, Yoshi Yamaguchi. His superb timing captures the young man who is ripped from his college career to a camp. The very feisty Christy Sandoval plays the Montano daughter and she is wonderful as the ambitious dreamer. Christina Chu appears as Hana, Ichiro’s wife; she depicts the elegance and strength of a Japanese woman watching the destruction of the life she has known. The arranged fiancee for Taruko is Calvin, a young university student impatient for his new life with a wife. He is played by local favorite Anthony Chan. Tito, the eighteen year old son of the Montano family, is played by Andres Ortiz, who is excellent.
The epic tale flashes back in time from Benji’s memories of his struggle to keep his family as he travels to see his wife and child at the camps while he struggles with the American dream. The Yamaguchis effort to maintain their dignity is not easy as Japanese families were branded enemies of the state by a nation they considered their home. The narrative covers many historical facts about the circumstances of the braceros, the bravery of the all Asian 442nd Regiment, the internment camps, the silicon valley of 73 years ago, and the fight of the few Japanese college students who refused to sign allegiance to the US Government. The production's use of archival video projections by David Murakami is captivating, and Joe Cedillo’s sound design is haunting. The two main sets are interiors of both ranch homes rugged and both lifelike designed by Joe Cardinalli. His settings are the heart of this farm life and the camps that Valdez sees in his memories.
Original music was composed for the ballet jazz movement, by Noe Montoya, Roy and P.J. Hirabayashi. Valdez's eloquent direction includes the two lovers meeting in the broccoli fields, with excellent choreography that captures the pain of farm workers stooping low and searching for that American dream. Two masked Kabuki dancers act as the mysterious chorus Kurogo who keep the older Benji alive, played by Rafael Toribio and Lee-Ron. Valdez's talented wife Lupe, designed the costumes and used her mother and father as the inspiration for the costumes in VALLEY “They were still young campesinos in the ’40s. No matter how poor, I remember seeing my father dress himself in his dark pinstripe suit every Sunday morning for Mass; his calloused hands darkened by fieldwork. As a campesina, my mother would wear her khaki pants under her cotton dress for modesty. It was inconceivable just to wear pants for fieldwork! I remember fondly my mother making my clothes from the 100-pound cotton, flour sacks bought at the general store.” says Lupe.
THE VALLEY OF THE HEART a Kabuki Corrido is an important part of California history for both Mexican and Japanese Americans. Valdez has brought this powerful epic with his masterful words and memories. He is a master at his craft and storytelling, this is sure to be the theatre event of this season. It is not an easy ticket to snag, this is the “HAMILTON” of northern California. It has already been extended to March 13th, due to record-breaking box office demand. It needs to make its cross over to New York and the West End. I was very moved by this theatre event and it is my first “MUST SEE” for 2016. The impressive partnership between San Jose Stage and El Teatro Campesino is a game changer for Bay Area Theatre. San Jose Stage has currently commissioned a new work by Luis Valdez working title “Adios Mama Carlota – Empress of Mexico” that will be in workshop soon. It is best to end my thoughts with Valdez words “"I think of this play as a Kabuki/Corrido because it blends both cultures," says Valdez, referring to traditional Japanese and Latino art forms. "I wanted to capture the multicultural fabric of life in this state."
San Jose Stage Company and El Teatro Campesino Presents
VALLEY OF THE HEART
A KABUKI CORRIDO
Written and Directed By Luis Valdez
Extended Through March 13
Luis Valdez’s Sweeping Epic Valley of the Heart
Unprecedented Presale Breaks Box Office Records
San Jose Stage Company
San Jose Stage, 490 First St.
Running time: three hours, one intermission
Tickets and more info http://www.thestage.org/
Photo's by DAVE LEPORI, David Murakami, and El Teatro Campesino
References Interviews and notes
*http://www.mercurynews.com/ Karen D'Souza