Slice: Classic Hollywood set in 14th Century Japan written by an LA Native equals YES.
By Ramona Pilar Gonzales
pLAywriting in the city
In the tradition of George Lucas, Paul Kikuchi uses the setting of 14th century feudal Japan and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, with a sprinkle of vaudeville humor, to tell a slightly less epic story about a boy with a dream. Kai Matsuda (Scott Keiji Takeda) is in his early 20’s living at home with his mom, Aiko (Emily Kuroda). He “works” as an armor repair guy when he isn’t devoting the rest of his time to his true passion – gaining fame and fortune by becoming a master swordsman. Aiko, a manager of a geisha house in her own right, is none too impressed with his aspirations, wanting instead for her son to get his head out of the clouds and into the repair works that pays the bills. Their lives are turned upside down when Fumi Tanaka (Elizabeth Ho) a lovely, mysterious young woman who Aiko has just hired to help Kai with the repairs, shows up on a wanted poster issued by the evil-esque Lord Watanabe.
The opening sequence has Kai yielding his “compact, not petite” sword and declaring himself to be the most amazing and talented master swordsman throughout the land. One look at his compact sword and it’s plain to see that this character is dabbling in delusions of grandeur. Scott Keiji Takeda’s Kai starts off whiny, headstrong, and self-absorbed, hitting all the typical Skywalker notes, and yet is absolutely endearing at the same time, which makes his transition into a selfless champion (as per the Hero’s Journey) a delight to watch.
In fact, the entire cast has exceptional comedy chops, never going for the obvious, broad humor, but executing beats with sophisticated finesse. Mike Hagiwara’s boisterous, gregarious and entitled Lord Ito could have very easily become creepy and lecherous in lesser hands. Aaron Takahashi pulled double duty as Tashiro, Lord Ito’s right hand man and the evil Lord Watanabe (with a fetching samurai wig that almost stole the show), playing each of them distinctly and with equal aplomb. Emily Kuroda’s Aiko and Elizabeth Ho’s Fumi were intelligent, hilarious and commanding presences on stage, keeping the rest of the male characters on their toes.
What makes this show so delightful is that it references classic Japanese period dramas, classic Hollywood romantic/slapstick comedies of Capra and Wilder (It Happened One Night comes to mind), and uses contemporary 21st century language as a wonderful juxtaposition. Occasionally the present-day expressions come across a little forced, but it’s only a minor distraction.
While noted theater reviewer Steven Leigh Morris “couldn’t find a story or allegory to care about,” I absolutely adored Kikuchi’s take on the classic Hollywood formula. As a Los Angeles native, a lover of “Person-With-A-Dream” stories, and a brown woman who rarely sees my community represented as protagonists in mass media or first run theaters, I find quite a bit to care about in this self-produced, high quality production. It’s the essence of DIY punk rock: forget the mainstream and do it yourself. That is exactly what the Metamorphosis Theater Company and a lot of theater companies of color do in the kingdom of film. The production itself is the allegory and a raucous bunch of fun at that.
Slice written by Paul Kikuchi, Directed by Jeff Liu, with Scott Keji Takeda, Elizabeth Ho, Emily Kuroda, Mike Hagiwara and Aaron Takahashi
Who: Metamorphosis Theater Company at the Fremont Centre Theater
What: Slice Written by Paul Kikuchi, Directed by Jeff Lliu
Where: Freemont Centre Theatre – 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, ca 91030
When: October 13, 2012 – Sunday, November 18, 2012
Ticket Info: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. $25 General, $20 Students & Seniors. Tickets available online, reservations: 877-MTC-8777