Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Monday December 1, 2003
Tiger of Malaya
National Arts Centre, Ottawa ON
Tuesday, November 25 through Saturday, December 6, 2003
TIGER OF MALAYA by Hiro Kanagawa, a co-production of the NAC and Toronto's prestigious Factory Theatre, deals with the 1945 war crimes trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Some may think of the battle of Manila as ancient history, but the subject matter has a strong relevance for today's world. When one considers the on-going trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague and the prisoners currently held at the American base at Guantanamo Bay, one realizes that the question of the responsibility of generals and political leaders has never been satisfactorily answered.
The action takes place on a wonderfully spare wooden set designed by David Boechler. The backdrop of irregularly spaced narrow wooden slats provides an opportunity for terrific lighting effects by designer Bonnie Beecher. Todd Charlton's subtle sound design using, among other things, birds, drums and Japanese flutes adds a great deal to the atmosphere of the production.
The cast does a remarkable job in "the show must go on" tradition. Ken James, the actor cast as the American Colonel Hilroy, was taken seriously ill and the opening was postponed for a day. At the next performance the role was taken over by Todd Duckworth. When I saw the play Mr. Duckworth carried a script, but handled it so deftly that the audience soon became unaware of it. Mr. Duckworth gives a strong performance as the lead defense attorney in an impressively authentic good-old-boy southern accent.
The idealistic Captain Lederman is played with appropriate intensity by Jordan Pettle. Ginger Ruiko Busch, who plays the Nisei translator Daisy, shows subtle differences in her manner with the Americans and when dealing with General Yamashita. The Act II confrontation scene between the Captain and Daisy is especially strong.
Rosario, the Philippino woman who haunts General Yamashita's thoughts, is powerfully played by Aura Carcueva. She is especially moving in her monologue.
Denis Akiyama is excellent as General Yamashita. He gradually lets us see the torment behind his stoicism. The clash of cultures and values is evident in the fact that his primary concern is his demand for death by firing squad, while the lawyers are concerned with his innocence or guilt and the legality of the trial. As the General says, "The lawyers fight for what is important to them, not for what is important to me," and "I fight for a death that suits me."
Ken Gass, Artistic Director of the Factory Theatre, has done a very creative job of staging the piece, especially Rosario's appearances. His handling of the translation sequences is subtle and very clear. The production as a whole is cinematic and seamless.
As for the play, in Act II Rosario has a few speeches that smack of a documentary, and serve to distance us from the characters as individuals. However the play forces us to rethink the unanswered question, "Is every general guilty of every act by any soldier?" It's a question that lingers.
On a scale of one to five, the NAC/Factory Theatre production of TIGER OF MALAYA gets four and one-quarter Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.