Jeanne Sakata, Emily Kuroda, Mia Tagano, Elizabeth Pan and William Thomas Hodgson in Velina Hasu Houston’s CALLIGRAPHY at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley through April 2

The Regional Premiere of Velina Hasu Houston’s international comic drama, Calligraphy at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, ends run on April 2nd.

Mia Tagano and Elizabeth Pan. Photo by Kevin Berne
Mia Tagano and Elizabeth Pan. Photo by Kevin Berne

Two continents, two cultures, two estranged sisters, and two cousins determined to bridge the gap between them, are all boldly calligraphed in this free-wheeling work set in Los Angeles and Tokyo, past and present. East and West collide as Japanese free-spirit Sayuri and biracial American Hiromi care for their feuding mothers, whom they gamely hope to reunite before it is too late. Directed by TheatreWorks Associate Artistic Director Leslie Martinson, Calligraphy began previews on March 8 and will continue through April 2.  For tickets ($35-$59) and more information the public may visit TheatreWorks.org or call (650) 463-1960.

Emily Kuroda and Mia Tagano. Photo by Kevin Berne
Emily Kuroda and Mia Tagano. Photo by Kevin Berne

Calligraphy follows Japanese/African-American Hiromi and Tokyo-based Sayuri, both daughters who are balancing the pull of modern life with traditional filial piety, as well as their colorful mothers who make things challenging as they struggle with aging, ancient grudges, and lost loves. Calligraphy made its world premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 2010, and was praised by the Los Angeles Timesas “Sensitive, finely-tuned. The emotional stakes are high.” Backstage gave the show a Critic’s Pick, noting, “Houston tells a complex, subtle tale (that) skillfully unravels the tangled skein of cultural/familial pressures.” Curtain Up concurred, adding, “Houston has a sure sense of rhythm, cannily building her play until the last scene.”

Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda. Photo by Kevin Berne
Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda. Photo by Kevin Berne

Houston wrote Calligraphy while going through her own mother/daughter concerns. She noticed there was “a large part of the culture that didn’t have the patience for aging,” and launched on years of research, interviewing caregivers in their 40s and 50s in both Japan and America, to notice cultural differences in how this natural evolution is approached. Says Houston, “It is called Calligraphy because when you draw with that dark, black India ink you make bold strokes. That’s how we live life – with bold strokes. Then it begins to fade but it fades with different forms of beauty. We should be able to appreciate the aging.”

Elizabeth Pan and Mia Tagano. Photo by Kevin Berne
Elizabeth Pan and Mia Tagano. Photo by Kevin Berne

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has assembled an exceptional cast for this production. In the role of American-born Hiromi Jameson is Mia Tagano, who returns to TheatreWorks where she was featured in The Loudest Man on Earth, Snow Falling on Cedars, and M. Butterfly. She has appeared at regional theatres, including A.C.T., Magic Theatre, California Shakespeare Theater, Hartford Stage, and Portland Center Stage, and was recently seen as Lady MacDuff in the Berkley Repertory Theatre production of Macbeth starring Francis McDormand and Conleth Hill. Elizabeth Pan will portray Japanese cousin Sayuri Matsuda. Ms. Pan has worked extensively in film and television, including guest star and co-starring roles in popular television shows including Scandal, How I Met Your Mother, Castle, andPrivate Practice. She has also performed on many stages in Southern California such as Playwright’s Arena, L.A. Theatre Works, and The Theatre @ Boston Court. She can be seen in major motion pictures including Lights Out, Better Half, Spy Moms, Peking Duck and the upcoming The Choir Director.

Emily Kuroda and William Thomas Hodgson. Photo by Kevin Berne
Emily Kuroda and William Thomas Hodgson. Photo by Kevin Berne

Emily Kuroda joins the cast as Hiromi’s mother Noriko, who migrated to America. Known to national television audiences for her role as Mrs. Kim on Gilmore Girls, she has enjoyed a lengthy career on stage, screen, and in TV series/movies. Her major film appearances include Red, Minority Report, Shop Girl, Maybe Someday, Hotel for Dogs, and many more. On television she has been seen inBloodline, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Practice, ER, Chicago Hope, Melrose Place, among others, and has appeared on national stages including La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Playwright’s Arena, LATC, Mark Taper Forum, Seattle Rep, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Jeanne Sakata will be featured as Natsuko, Japanese mother to Sayuri. Her career also includes extensive theatre, film, and television appearances. Ms. Sakata has been seen in New York at Lincoln Center Theatre and New York Shakespeare Festival, and across the country at the Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, A.C.T., South Coast Rep, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among others. Her television appearances include True Fiction, Desperate Housewives, Numb3rs, American Family, ER, and she can be seen in films including The Baby Makers, Mission Brendan, The Sweetest Thing, and Poison Ivy.

Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda. Photo by Kevin Berne
Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda. Photo by Kevin Berne

Rounding out the cast is William Thomas Hodgson, making his TheatreWorks debut as Eamon Jameson, Noriko’s husband. Mr. Hodgson has performed at Berkeley Playhouse, Shotgun Players, La Jolla Playhouse, and in several productions at Ubuntu Theatre Project including the solo tour-de-force I Am My Own Wife.

Elizabeth Pan and Jeanne Sakata. Photo by Kevin Berne
Elizabeth Pan and Jeanne Sakata. Photo by Kevin Berne

Leslie Martinson (Director) is TheatreWorks’ Associate Artistic Director and has served as a director and administrator at TheatreWorks since 1984. She has helmed many productions at TheatreWorks, more recently including Proof, Water by the Spoonful,Warrior Class, the Regional Premiere of Time Stands Still, the 2012 West Coast Premiere of The Pitmen Painters, and the company’s acclaimed 2010 production of Superior Donuts. Other TheatreWorks directing credits include The Grapes of Wrath (co-directed with Artistic Director Robert Kelley), the Bay Area Premiere of Putting It Together, and the West Coast Premieres of The Boys Next Door, Brilliant Traces, If We Are Women, Theophilus North, and The Voice of the PrairieA graduate of Occidental College, Martinson was a Watson Fellow, a member of Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab, a member of the La MaMa International Directing Symposium, and has served on Theatre Bay Area’s Theatre Services Committee since 2002. In 2009, she was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship in Stage Direction from the Arts Council of Silicon Valley for artistic achievement and community impact.

Velina Hasu Houston. Photo credit: Ken Matsui
Velina Hasu Houston. Photo credit: Ken Matsui

Velina Hasu Houston (Playwright) is an internationally celebrated writer with over twenty commissions in theatre and opera, whose work has been produced in New York, across the U.S., in Asia, and Europe. She was the first-ever Playwright-in-Residence at The Pasadena Playhouse, and a Fulbright Scholar. Her current projects include productions at Los Angeles Opera, The Pasadena Playhouse, Playwrights’ Arena/Center Theatre Group, Now Africa Playwrights’ Festival, and on National Public Radio. She has been honored by The Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, Japan Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and others, and founded the graduate playwriting studies program at the University of Southern California. At the USC School of Dramatic Arts, she is Distinguished Professor of Dramatic Writing, Director of Dramatic Writing, Associate Dean of Faculty, and Resident Playwright.

Mia Tagano, Emily Kuroda, William Thomas Hodgson, Elizabeth Pan and Jeanne Sakata. Photo by Kevin Berne
Mia Tagano, Emily Kuroda, William Thomas Hodgson, Elizabeth Pan and Jeanne Sakata. Photo by Kevin Berne
The cast of CALLIGRAPHY. Photo by Kevin Berne
The cast of CALLIGRAPHY. Photo by Kevin Berne

Photos: Jeanne Sakata, Emily Kuroda, Mia Tagano, Elizabeth Pan and William Thomas Hodgson in Velina Hasu Houston’s CALLIGRAPHY at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, March 8-April 2
Jeanne Sakata, Emily Kuroda, Mia Tagano, Elizabeth Pan and William Thomas Hodgson in Velina Hasu Houston’s CALLIGRAPHY at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, March 8-April 2

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