Humour permeates history play

In Yellow Fever, a play written by R.A. Shiomi, central character Sam Shikaze investigates the disappearance of the ‘Cherry Blossom Queen.’ The drama is set in the 1970s on Powell Street and highlights key issues such as racism and police corruption while keeping the audience engaged with comedic relief.

Directed by Donna Spencer, the play is performed by Hiro Kanagawa, Craig Erickson, Yukari Komatsu, Henry Mah, Jay Ono, Evan Rein, Agnes Tong and Raugi.

For the first time in 30 years, the award-winning comedy will be presented in Japantown, otherwise known as Nihonmachi, at the Firehall Arts Centre from May 28 to June 12.

The Cherry Blossom Queen is at the heart of the story

Although Yellow Fever is set in the 1970s and speaks to the effects of the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, the issues are still very much evident today.

Photo courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre

In the play, the disappearance of the Cherry Blossom Queen is a plot orchestrated by a racist group (Sons of the Western Guard). She was kidnapped in hopes of stirring tensions amongst groups. These people tried to create racial tension to eliminate Japanese-Canadians. Police intrigue and corruption are involved as well, and Shikaze, the main character, is forced to confront these issues and problematic people in order to save the Cherry Blossom Queen.

Shiomi speaks to his inspiration of the play and why he was motivated to pursue such a story. Shiomi recounts his encounter with a nisei man named Gordon Kadota who he worked with in 1977 at the Powell Street Festival. Kadota’s style and aura drew Shiomi to first write a short story that was later turned into this play. Shiomi doesn’t shy away from explaining just how big of an influence Kadota was on the story and for the creation of Sam Shikaze.

“He reminded me of the TV detective Columbo with his trench coat and droll sense of humor,” he says.

Kadota was one of many people who inspired the writer. Takeo Yamashiro and members of Powell Street Revue influenced him as well. Phillip Gotanda is credited for his role in the creation of the play as he urged Shiomi to work with the Asian-American Theatre Workshop in San Francisco. Furthermore, Marc Hayashi and Lane Nishikawa helped to adapt the short story for the stage.

“Marc played the key role of dramaturg and Lane was the director for the first production where I did major revisions in the rehearsal process,” Shiomi says.

Shiomi has not been in rehearsals but is excited to see how this format will impact the reception of the play. He looks forward to seeing if this structure is viable for the future.

History repeats itself

Hiro Kanagawa plays Sam Shikaze in Yellow Fever | Photo courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre

Yellow Fever is an attempt to capture the essence of the generational trauma that was brought about by what Japanese-Canadians experienced at the internment camps. The racism which motivated the creation of such camps still exists to this today.

“I have lived in the US for the past several decades and have watched in horror at the recent wave of anti-Asian incidents here and the rise of white supremacist groups,” says Shiomi. “It is so unfortunate that the fictional group like the Sons of the Western Guard in my play has reflected a new reality where groups like that actually exist and are proud to spew out their racist ideology, [something that is] perhaps more evident in the US than Canada.”

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