The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor might seem like ancient history more than 75 years after the fact, but stories about it have been a vital part of life for actor Kurt Kanazawa. His grandmother, Shineji Kanazawa, was a key figure in helping Japanese-American women and their families survive during the shameful era of internment camps that locked their husbands up during the subsequent war and told him the tales of her work.
Her efforts eventually earned her a Red Cross award, an honorary doctorate from the University of Hawaii and appointments by presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Now, Kurt is getting his own opportunity to honor her memory by starring in the new play “Nothing Is the Same” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, which follows the story of four kids in Hawaii whose friendship is deeply affected by the attack.
“It’s about four kids playing marbles in a church yard minutes before Pearl Harbor, and I play a Japanese kid named Mits who’s the most popular kid among my friends and is then suspected of being a spy,” says Kanazawa. “It’s quite a transformation. I’m 11 in it, but we’re all adults playing kids. It was a show originally written for children and is now being performed for general audiences.”
Indeed, the run will be split between performances open to the public and school groups. The play serves both as a reminder of traumatic history as well as a timely reflection on the current distrustful treatment of Muslims by some American citizens.
The reason that Mits is suspected by his friends is that he appears to signal one of the Japanese aircraft when it buzzes the town en route to Pearl Harbor. The central tension of the play focuses on how his non-Japanese friends treat him, and whether he himself will be subjected to a detention camp.
The Playhouse has been staging creative public events outside the theater to promote its productions for the past few years, and has four free events scheduled to increase awareness of “Nothing.” At 1 p.m. Sunday at the theater, it will host a panel discussion called “Home, Heartbreak and Hope: Reflections on the Japanese-American Experience in Sierra Madre and the San Gabriel Valley,” moderated by best-selling mystery author Naomi Hirahara.
At 1 p.m. Jan. 28, “Hula in the Street!’ will feature the dancers of Hula Halau Na Mamo O Pana’ew who will perform a mini-recital of traditional Hawaiian dances in the street next to the Playhouse just prior to the 2 p.m. matinee. The family event “Hawaii ‘Try It’” mini-workshop will explore the cultural contributions of the Philippines, Korea and native Hawaiians to the Aloha spirit of Hawaii will be hosted at 1 p.m. Feb. 18, in which attendees can try a craft, learn a dance step, make a flower accessory, and taste a Hawaiian treat.
Finally, at 1 p.m. Feb. 25, attendees can tour the Japanese Goodwill Garden at Sierra Madre Elementary School, 141 W. Highland Ave., Sierra Madre. The free event will have tea and Japanese tea snacks available for purchase, and offers a rare weekend look at the garden, which was created in the 1930s by the town’s sizable Japanese community to thank fellow residents for welcoming their children.
“Nothing Is the Same” runs Friday through March 4 at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Tickets are $20 to $30. Visit sierramadreplayhouse.org or call (626) 355-4318.