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Three struggling sisters return home after spending time in a WWII Japanese internment camp -- one of the worse times in American History. Philip Kan Gotanda's "Sisters Matsumoto," is now at the Center Rep through April 29th. This important play first premiered at the Seattle Rep in 1999 directed by Seattle Rep’s artistic director, Sharon Ott. Then “Sisters” went on to premiere at the San Jose Rep later that year. “Sisters Matsumoto mirrors the history of my mother’s life,” playwright Philip Kan Gotanda says. Gotanda is a widely produced playwright and respected independent filmmaker. He has received numerous honors and awards, three awards from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a Bay Area native and resides in San Francisco and is close to the Japanese American experience. He also said “This play is inspired by several sources - my mother’s life that mirrors closely the return of these sisters - after being incarcerated for two years in a Relocation Camp.”

This is is a story of dislocation and the end of a way of life for Japanese families . The Margaret Lesher stage takes us back to 1945, and a worn down farm home with anti Asian graffiti written on the outside walls.This year 2017 is the 75th anniversary of FDR’s executive order to send Japanese Americans to concentration camps across the country. Gotanda’s play comes at the perfect time to revisit these tragic times.

Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" comes to mind as this is a family lost between two countries. The powerful "you can't go home again" message takes on a driving new dimensions for these sisters and family. Japanese-Americans returning from internment; released from the Rohwer camp in Arkansas. To this family the term "home" means everything including their farm and their feelings for the American dream, and the adopted homeland of the family Matsumoto. Gotanda's play makes its East Bay debut in an intriguing production by the Center Rep Repertory Theatre, directed by the artistic director of San Francisco’s Crowded Fire Theater, the bold Mina Morita. With a moody authentic house set by Andrea Berchert. Featuring a compelling cast including the riveting Keiko Shimosatio Carrerio as Grace, Melissa Locsin as Chiz, and Carina Lastimosa as Rose. The sisters have returned to their family farm being cofined in the camps of Arkansas. Now they deal with racism after being one of the most wealthiest families in Stockton.

The Matsumoto sisters including Grace's husband, Hideo, played by the keen Ogie Zulueta, and Chiz's husband, Bola, played by the magnetic Tasi Alabastro and their baby take the return in stride. They attempt to put the home back together and remove the racist vandalism to the family farm. The home has fallen into despair and feels strange to Grace, Chiz and Rose without their father, who died. Mr Matsumoto, a leader of the Japanese-American community, died back at the camp.

The loss is difficult for the family and they find their own hometown changed and not friendly. They know if they can bring their home back to its pre war status it will help them to return to the norm. Their father was a pure patriot and his loss destroys the family. The group itself is divided on issues of patriotism vs the drama in the camps. Hideo is very much pro-Japan and voices his distrust of the U.S. government; Zulueta brings forth that passion. While Grace remains true to her father's loyalty to the U.S. even after his imprisonment that killed him.

With such different points of views within this family, Gotanda explores the issues of the American Dream and the struggle to deal with their heritage and culture. Grace, Chiz and Rose are nisei, second-generation Japanese-Americans. Born in the U.S., they are citizens who feel betrayed by their imprisonment, a feeling made more intense by the sisters' having been raised on their father's clear cut patriotism. Keiko Shimosato Carreiro as the oldest daughter brings the inner pain to Grace, who is torn as the new family patriarch. Director Mina Morita helms an excellent ensemble cast who turn in believable performances which walk a very engrossing line between rage, acceptance and revelry.

Andrea Bechert’s exceptional set beautifully creates the feel of the farm house and its surroundings including the photos and their traditional altar. Morita brings an important feel to her enthusiastic direction keeping the movement flowing and bringing some the drama down stage. The lighting design by the skilled Kurt Landisman completes the distant look of the trashed home, and Cliff Caruther’s sound design gives the space an open feel especially after the sunsets. The skirts, jackets and 40’s look is the best part of the design of this story, Maggi Yule costume design hits the after war feel that include Amy Bobeda wigs for the three sisters. Lynne Soffer, dialect coach, kept the Asian rage solid as the three sisters become very emotional during their arguments.

The leads are naturals and tragic Californians – Ogie Zulueta’s is forceful as Hideo is sensitive and with a winning performance. Tasi Alabastro’s is likable as Bola, and local favorite Colin Thomson is Mr. Hersham their next door neighbor who brings the arc of the story all its predictable drama. The Matsumoto’s do their best to heal and return to the norm with dealing with other issues their father left them. The Sisters Matsumoto offers a humanized illustration of the caution between their needs and realities that is the American experience and the common bond of true sisterhood. Sister Grace rallies the anthem, “We are Matsumotos,” as she makes sure her lost family will turn around and prosper as they did before the War. This is a powerful play that is a “Must See”, the cast and craft team is terrific. Next up at the Center Rep is ALTAR BOYZ that opens May 26th. .

The Center Rep Presents


By Philip Kan Gotanda,

Directed by Mina Morita

Through: April 29

Lesher Center for the Arts,

1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $33-$55; 925-943-7469,

Photos by:

Cast: Tasi Alabastro, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Carina Lastimosa, Melissa Locsin, Alexander M. Lydon, Colin Thomson, and Ogie Zulueta.

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