S.A.M. seeks S.A.F. in "S.A.M. I Am"
Garrett H. Omata's "S.A.M. I AM" is not a personals ad in "The Stranger." It is the first truly Asian American play being produced by the Repertory Actors Theatre, a company known for racial and gender-politicied casting in non-ethnic works. It's basically a company that gives people of color a chance to play white people. Race plays a major factor in this play as well.
The comedic play explores the contemporary racial politics of dating. John Hamabata (played by Joseph Yang), a single Asian male, seeks Jackie Shibata (played by Colleen Parker), a single Asian female who has a thing for white guys. To win her heart, he tries to become as white as possible. On the periphery is John's roommate, Lohman Chin (played by Tony Lee), a S.A.M. into blond S.W.F.s and Jackie's roommate, Betty Hamabata (played by Kathy Hsieh), a S.A.F. into M.A.'s and Ph.D.s.
However, it is hard to sympathize with John since he, too, has his own racial preference. Just like Jackie who wants to date only white guys, John only wants to date Japanese girls. Some will say, he is, after all, Japanese, but that will only frustrate those non-Japanese American females who are into Asian guys. John is also indirect and insecure with his feelings, not revealing them to Jackie. So, how is Jackie to know how John really feels about her? If the playwright has chosen to represent the Asian American male as being indirect because of his upbringing, then he is truly denying his own responsibilty for his own troubles.
Although I truly liked the play, it is flawed. The playwright pits John up against nasty white guys, creating a dichotomy for Asian women to choose either nice Asian guys or gross representations of white guys. The true test of maturity is to see Jackie choose between equally nice guys of any race. Also, John's attempt to win her over by 'eurofication' succeeds too well and too early, leaving John with relatively few hurdles. Does John only have two tools in his toolbox- be indirect and insecure or be white? The plot is too symmetric and the characters are perhaps, too simple and one noted, understandable without complexity. I say 'perhaps' because I know some people like this and that, in a way, legitimizes the writing. Also, evry actor is cast according to their type, something I wouldn't expect from a company known for non-traditional casting. Yang turns in an adequate performance, albeit somewhat directionless and dispirited. There is no chemistry between Yang and Parker. Both have put in better performances in other productions. Hsieh is likeable and has good chemistry with Lee. Lee stands out with confidence, commanding presence and seems to be having the most fun. Lee is fresh and a welcomed addition to the Seattle Asian American acting community scene. Kim Anh Yanda who plays Lohman's girlfriend, is over the top and too cartoony for my taste. The whole production is somewhat under-directed, under-energized and under-committed. One of the catch phrases being thrown around is a line from John's writing, to the effect: 'Sometimes, you have to eat love.' I will venture to say, sometimes you have to eat something before going to a show. It's a bit longer than it should be.
Some of the technical cues were off - phones ringing at the wrong times. This is forgivable because I saw it on opening night and there will probably be improvements by the time the rest of the public sees it. The set, the sound and light design is minimal. The only light design I saw was a window-pane gobo, probably a device to indicate the passage of time, as opposed to symbolizing the flashes of enlightenment or the rise from human folly.
"S.A.M. I Am" has something to offer you whether you're single, married, straight, gay, Asian, black, white, male female or whatever.
Before you place that personals ad, go see "S.A.M. I Am." Bring a blind date, too. Theatre will give you an air of sophistication. No turtlenecks required. It runs until Nov. 21 at the Langston Hughes Theatre, 104 17th Ave S. (at Yesler). For tickets and more information, call (206)364-3283.
November 18 - 30, 1999