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A Box Without a Bottom: Soko-Nashi Bako (FKA; JapBox) by David Hirata, directed by Mark Kenward, through December 1.

David Hirata performs a 150-year-old  bottomless box trick at the Marsh Berkeley. Photo by David Allen.

Japanese-American David Hirata is- first and foremost- a magician.  And also a monologuist.  He has been amazing Bay Area  audience for over 30 years.  As far as this, his most recent show, A Box Without a Bottom Soko Nashi Bako  (fka: Jap Box) goes, Hirata has stated in an interview, “I had come up with this idea of trying to write a piece about American history told through magic as it was done in various periods.”  As to the name change, Hirata states on the Marsh web page:

“I have decided to change the name of my show from The J*p Box to A Box Without A Bottom: Soko-nashi Bako.

When I considered The J*p Box as a title, I felt that I had vetted its use properly. I had several conversations with family members, some of whom had lived through internment during WWII, as well as Japanese-American audience members at the show’s initial run at the San Diego International Fringe Festival in 2018. The reaction to the show was uniformly positive, and it seemed that the artistic considerations of the title justified its use.

Subsequent discussions with the Japanese-American community here in the Bay Area have led me to realize that I have underestimated the raw pain of the “J” word. The title itself provides insufficient context to justify its use. I deeply regret the pain caused by my mistake.

I’m grateful to all those who reached out to me to discuss this issue and have been happy to listen and learn.  As with all artistic decisions, the conversation about this change has been interesting (and remarkably civil), and I hope that this living dialogue can continue.”

Wearing a simple Japanese hakama ( martial arts top), which he sometimes changes to a kimono, he goes into the history of famous Japanese magicians who made names for themselves in America: eg: Namigoro Sumidagawa in 1866, the very first Japanese citizen to be issued a passport.  Later Sumidagawa formed his Imperial Japanese Troupe and entertained audiences across Victorian America.  As Hirata tell us, his act became appropriated by American magicians in yellowface and rechristened as the “Jap Box.”   Reading about him inspired Hirata to create his own eponymous show, re-christened “A Box Without a Bottom”   He is not your typical, razzle-dazzle magician of the “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet folks!” school of magic.  Throughout his monologue, he subtly performs awesome magic to illustrate his talk.  At one point, as he speaks, eggs appear between the fingers of his outstretched hand- first one, then another, and another appearing to come from nowhere; then, in another, two short ropes-one red,  one white, manipulated as he speaks- the two ropes become one- red and white- to illustrate the concept of coming together as a people.  Hirata’s show explores illusions of race and identity through the magic of two cultures,.  He also touches on the negative aspects of being Japanese in America, including a brief overview of the Japanese interment camps during WWII, and other injustices. From the bottomless wooden box among other items, multi-color scarves appear.  Butterflies? from scraps of paper?

Hirata performs holding his magic box on stage at the Marsh in Berkeley. Photo by Daniel D. Baumer/The Marsh.

I have seen and have been awestruck by magicians all my life until so many have appeared in TV talent and variety shows that I have become jaded.  As I have said,  David Hirata is like no other in that it seems his magic is secondary to the content- his message- of his monologue.  My guest was equally amazed and-need I say- educated?

See “A Box Without  a Bottom”  5:00 Saturdays; Sunday s 2:PM to December 1. at the Marsh in Berkeley, CA at 2120 Allston Way, near BART, F- AC Transit bus from SF.  $25-$35 Sliding scale; $55- $100 reserved.  Please note that most shows are sold out. I went to a matinee on gorgeous Sunday. It was sold out! Get your tickets now at:  the marsh.org/tickets or call 415 282 3055.

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