Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Teahouse of the August Moon by John Patrick (1954)

Summary:  American Captain Fisby is sent to Tobiki Village--an island of Okinawa with specific orders to establish democracy and build a school.  However, when he gets there, he soon finds himself far more interested in the Tobiki way of life.  Following the wishes of his Geisha Girl Lotus Blossom, Fisby uses governmental resources to build a teahouse rather than a school.  When a psychiatrist is dispatched to look after him, he too loves the Tobiki way of life.  However, the psychiatrist also understands that the “natives” need a source of income and starts selling the local sweet potato brandy to neighboring military bases.  

When the Colonel eventually visits Tobiki, he is outraged and orders the brandy stills and the teahouse demolished.  However they are quickly saved by another military officer who bursts into the final scene exclaiming that the village is being called a great “example of American ‘get-up-and-go’ in the recovery program.  The Pentagon is boasting.  Congress is crowing” (Gassner 214).  The natives may never get a school, but they have their teahouse and their liquor industry….thanks to the Americans.

Thoughts:  The narrator of the play is an Islander named Sakini, who often speaks in verse and is chided by American soldiers for being a lovable idiot.  He serves as a native informant to Captain Fisby, informing him of island customs and serving as an interpreter.  The play moves quickly and is often very funny but the issues of racism and salvation-by-American-soldier are troubling in terms of production today.   The Japanese people in the script rarely speak any sort of English, but instead speak John Patrick’s own version of Japanese…which seems to have no translation into the actual language.  Asian stereotypes and American aggrandizement run rampant throughout the play.

1 comment:

  1. Funny story: When Eli Wallach played Sakini in 'Teahouse', he tried to learn actual Japanese. But as soon as he went on stage, all the Japanese went out of his head, so he recited the only sentence he could remember: "The school will have five sides like the Pentagon."