Local Playwright Brings Us A Sensitive Story In “White To Gray” At Mustard Seed

Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron drink their troubles away in "White To Gray" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron drink their troubles away in “White To Gray” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

St. Louis theatre audiences have been lucky enough to experience a lot of new plays over the past year and this year continues that trend at Mustard Seed Theatre. The first one of 2015 is from local playwright, Rob Maesaka as his play, “White To Gray,” set in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, gives us a love story as well as a history lesson in one of the most horrible knee-jerk reactions against a race of people ever perpetrated.

Mom (Paige Russell) tries to comfort her daughter (Fox Smith) during Mustard Seed's production of "White To Gray." Photo: John Lamb

Mom (Paige Russell) tries to comfort her daughter (Fox Smith) during Mustard Seed’s production of “White To Gray.” Photo: John Lamb

Set initially in Hawaii, we meet Sumiko (Fox Smith) and her mother (Paige Russell), two Japanese Americans as they are visiting the gravesite of their father/husband. Interrupting their moment is Peter (Ben Nordstrom) who is the son of a local bigwig and who has been infatuated with Sumiko since their days in school together. Although the feeling is mutual, her mother has plans for her daughter that include going to San Francisco to marry a Japanese doctor she has chosen for her. Submitting to her mother’s wishes, Sumiko agrees to sail the next day on the S.S. Lurline to the Mainland.

Mother and daughter respectfully bow to the ship's captain in "White To Gray" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Mother and daughter respectfully bow to the ship’s captain in “White To Gray” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Trying to drown his sorrows with his friend Jimmy (Charlie Barron), Peter makes the decision between Mai-Tai’s to book passage on that boat as well. The confrontation that ensues escalates when, two days into the voyage, news comes that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and all of their lives change forever. Jimmy, who had been on leave, rejoins his Navy buddies and his demeanor changes drastically. Although he tries to warn Peter of the consequences of continuing to see or even hide Sumiko and her mother aboard the ship that has received orders to quarantine all Japanese civilians, Peter’s concern for their safety gets them all in trouble. The cruise ship soon begins to have a make over as well, quickly being reconditioned to battleship status.

Ben Nordstrom as Peter tries to console Fox Smith as Sumiko in Mustard Seed's "White To Gray." Photo: John Lamb

Ben Nordstrom as Peter tries to console Fox Smith as Sumiko in Mustard Seed’s “White To Gray.” Photo: John Lamb

Both Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron shine in this tense drama. Nordstrom makes Peter a truly sensitive person who can’t shake his love for Sumiko and tries to risk everything for her safety while Barron is effective making a total 180 from being the fun-loving friend to a man serious about his duty to his country. Fox Smith also provides the proper amount of sensitivity as she is torn between her love for Peter and her duty to her mother and tradition. Paige Russell also manages to give respect to the mother without stepping too far over the bounds of insensitivity and making her a caricature.

A wonderful supporting cast plays various roles including bartender, ship personnel and sailors including Chuck Brinkley, Taylor Campbell, Jeff Kargus and Greg Lhamon. Director Deanna Jent has brought a quiet sensitivity to the situation including the somewhat schmaltzy yet highly effective ending to a story that is fraught with tension and even a bit of rage. Dunsi Dai has designed a powerful set that relies on two soaring, angled pieces that are moved to represent parts of the ship and Maureen Berry’s lights emphasize the feeling aboard the vessel. Jane Sullivan’s costumes are historically appropriate and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design is right on the mark.

As with any new play, there’s some work to be done but Mr. Maesaka’s script is a tight one and, at a two hour run time with intermission, works pretty well for a first time production. “White To Gray” plays at Mustard Seed Theatre through February 22nd. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 or contact them at mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.

 

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