Playwright Philip Kan Gotanda has won acclaim for depicting the Asian-American experience in plays like After the War and Sisters Matsumoto, which deal with the aftermath of the Japanese-American internment, and his recent I Dream of Chang and Eng, which chronicles the lives of the famous “Siamese Twins.”
Gotanda’s latest work, now at San Jose Repertory Theatre, is something of a departure for him. Love in American Times could be described as a romantic comedy, though not of the Hollywood mold—it doesn’t really follow the standard “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again” progression, and secondly, neither the boy nor the girl is very likeable.
J. Michael Flynn plays Jack Heller, a wealthy tycoon who is looking for a beautiful woman to marry. Linda Park, who played Hoshi Sato on Star Trek: Enterprise, steps into the role of Scarlett Mori-Yang, a social climber trying to attach herself to a rich, powerful man. In the first act of the play, the two sit together in a fancy restaurant sipping wine, eating cheese and coolly sizing each other up, leading us to wonder if this might be a business meeting rather than a date.
This premise, inspired by the current and slightly creepy phenomenon of wealthy white males seeking out young Asian wives, sets the couple up for a great deal of conflict. Jack is crass, rich, white and old, while Scarlett is refined, middle class, Japanese-Korean-American and young enough to be Jack’s daughter. What they have in common are determination, greed and oversized egos. How can this possibly be a foundation for love?
A less exciting play might leave us wondering why we should care, but the clever back-and-forth between Scarlett and Jack is truly entertaining, and things only get more interesting in the second act, when Scarlett boards the Heller family yacht and meets Jack’s supremely dysfunctional family from his previous marriage, including an ineffectual snot of a son (Craig Marker), a scary ex-wife (Rosina Reynolds) and a hopeless train wreck of a daughter, albeit with a fine singing voice (Arwen Anderson).
The play benefits greatly from Rick Lombardo’s expert direction and some fine actors. In addition to those already mentioned, Gabriel Marin appears as a hapless fellow who plays Russian roulette with Jack, while Zarah Mahler plays the tycoon’s daughter-in-law and delivers nice renditions of “Mack the Knife” and “Fever.”
Love in American Times
A San Jose Repertory Theatre production
Runs through June 5 at the Rep