by Margret Echeverria
Discovering your parents are people and not gods or worse, fallen angels, is an empowering revelation that varies in the wallop it can pack dependent upon whether or not you are presented this truth before, during or after they die. Many religions teach that immortality is wrapped up in the strength of our family bonds – how we treat our kin when they are at their ugliest determines admission into the elusive Celestial Kingdom. Leah Nanako Winkler’s play, GOD SAID THIS, a production of Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre is about a family standing just behind the veil at the entrance to – what is it, really? Beyond? All these characters are confronting their capacity for love and their own worthiness while their matriarch Masako (Ako) hangs on to life in a body heavy with chemotherapy.
My fingers are poised now over this keyboard and I am trying to compose a series of words to get you, Dear Reader, to understand that I witnessed a miracle last night. You don’t get the perfect blend often in New York theatre performances. It’s not fair to expect it. But when you do get it, it is exhilarating. This is it. I imagine Morgan Gould doing an end zone dance when she realized she was going to direct a fantastic script with a dream cast. Winkler’s writing goes deep into the real. Families on a good day are a mess of souls trying to relate to each other over different interpretations of history kept secret. On a bad day, Masako’s daughters, Hiro (Satomi Blair) and Sophie (Emma Kikue), open the box on what traumatized them growing up. Raw memories emerge of alcoholic rages followed by groveling apologies for imaginary transgressions. Hey, that was not fair, not healthy, but we thought that was normal. What do you do with all that anger when you still love these people? How do we forgive them when the behavior changes, but the apology never comes? Who’s turn is it to be with our ravaged mother because we cannot all be in the same room together?
Ako gives us Mama Masako in excruciating pain as she battles the family invader, cancer. Her spirit is fully intact. She smiles, she makes us laugh and she does not filter her prickly truths – she wants to protect her family, she is glad her cancer has brought them together and she would really like to poop! We still see the optimistic smiling young immigrant from Japan who met James (Jay Patterson) many years ago in California and followed him back to Kentucky as his bride. Patterson gives us a man who is stunned that he should still be alive after drinking enough to kill every horse in the derby. He is completely heartbroken that his wife is suffering so unfairly. James presents himself to others as just a simple man who will tickle you with his routine daily concerns now that he no longer fogs his life with booze, but Patterson has layered this character long and deep with inner secrets that will pull your heart out and press it right into the gritty theatre floor until you think you will be the one to openly sob in the dark room full of softly sniffling strangers. That was me opening my purse quietly, pulling out three tissues and handing the pack to my date as she tightly wrapped her fingers around mine.
I love this family. I want them to make it. I want them to embrace each other. I want Sophie to stop hiding behind biblical platitudes and Hiro to stop being such a narcissist. I want to know why James and Masako fell for one another. And through unexpected laughter sprinkled over hot tears this story really gratifies. Kikue takes the character of Sophie who could have been so one-note and gives a performance that reminds us why we think humans as well as multi-faceted jewels come from God. Blair’s Hiro is that friend you drop everything for when she comes to town who drives you crazy with her self-analysis, but who tells the truth no matter what and that’s why you love her. Hiro’s
relationship with John (Tom Coiner) is often the comic relief in this play, but Winkler does not rest her pen there. John is the flawed “good guy.” The guy you never thought you could count on who shows up when you need someone to keep you sane and he surprises you with useful wisdom. Coiner is – yeah, I’m gonna say it – sublime. Gould must have said, Run with it, Kid; and he absolutely did.
You can’t, you can’t, you can’t miss this show. Really. I’m not kidding. This is gold I’m giving you here. There are more women in the cast than men; we examine life, death and consequences in a deeply satisfying way; we look at racism and classicism as well as the crazy American economy since the elimination of the gold standard. The gold is here. Go get you some. Go see GOD SAID THIS.
GOD SAID THIS – By Leah Nanako Winkler; directed by Morgan Gould
WITH: Ako (Masako), Satomi Blair (Hiro), Tom Coiner (John), Emma Kikue (Sophie) and Jay Patterson (James).
Set by Arnulfo Maldonado; costumes by Jessica Pabst; lighting by Ryan Seelig; sound by M.L. Dogg; production stage manager, Jessica R. Aguiler; Production Manager, Will Duty; General Manager, Dean A. Carpenter; Director of Development, Erica Raven-Scorza. Through February 15 at the Cherry Lane Theatre at 38 Commerce Street, New York, NY. Tickets. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.