THE GREAT WAVE: Drama by Francis Turnly. Directed by Mark Wing-Davey. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Main Season: Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA.
(510) 647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. September 12–October 27, 2019. American premiere
The Great Wave a washout at Berkeley Rep. Rating: 1/2
The Rhoda proscenium arch stage is awash with sound and graphics of waves smashing, rain pouring, soldiers marching, massive acrobatics spectacle, floating paper lanterns etc. and multilevel sets moving in and out of the wings with live characters to carry the story in scenes that are dwarfed by the spectacle. One wonders how this show that was co-produced by the National Theatre and the Tricycle in 2018 earned rave reviews.
To be fair the simmering tensions between Japan and Korea were real and still are and the repressive regimes in North Korea well known. Also it is fact that young Japanese men and women became “missing” in late 70s and early 80s and never found. In Turnly’s plot line he creates a family who has lost a daughter who was not found after a terrible ocean storm.
The play spans 1979 to 2003 with the major characters a Japanese family with teenage sisters, Hanako (Jo Mei), Reiko (Yurie Collins) and mother Etsuko (Sharon Omi) who have a male friend Tetsuo (Julian Cihi). Hanako goes missing while observing a storm. It is assumed she has been carried out to sea and drowned but Etsuko is in complete denial since Reiko had seen three strange longhaired men on the beach during the storm. On a personal level they never give up hope and with the Tetsuo’s “detective work” there is hope.
On the geopolitical level Turnly creates a plot line of Hanako being captive by the North Koreans, forced to teach Korean Jung Sun (Cindy Im) the Japanese language and social customs while giving up her own name and pledging allegiance to the “Supreme Leader” whose photograph is omnipresent. These scenes are beautifully played on a stark set without the “benefit” of distracting sound and graphics. They are the more powerful and disconcerting of the evening.
The story is played out chronologically with the action shifting between Japan and Korea. Jo Mei’s Hanako captures the acting honors as she becomes indoctrinated as Korean through intimidation and brutality. She shares honors with Sharon Omi as Etsuko who is forever hopeful. Mark Wing-Davey does not reach the potential demonstrated in the multiple other Berkeley Rep shows he has helmed.
Running time is long two hours and 50 minutes with an intermission and on opening night there missed cues and stage set malfunctions that should be corrected in later performances.
CAST: Julian Cihi (Tetsuo); Yurié Collins (Reiko); Stephen Hu (Kum-Chol); Cindy Im (Jung Sun/Soldier Two); Paul Juhn (Official); Jo Mei (Hanako); Jo Mei (Hanako); Grace Chan Ng (Hana); Sharon Omi (Etsuko); David Shih (Takeshi/Soldier One).
CREATIVE TEAM: Mark Wing-Davey (Director); Chika Shimizu (Scenic Designer); Meg Neville (Costume Designer); Lap Chi Chu (Lighting Designer); Bray Poor (Sound Designer); Tara Knight (Video Designer); Michael Suenkel (Stage Manager)
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com
(l to r) Paul Juhn (Official), Cindy Im (Soldier Two), and Jo Mei (Hanako) in the American premiere of The Great Wave at Berkeley Rep, directed by Mark Wing-Davey.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre