Nisei Blue creates a haunting secondary story

by Jenna Shummoogum · 1 comment

Sometimes, the ghosts of the past mean more than real people. There is more than that haunting John, the detective of Nisei Blue, a new play by Mieko Ouchi featured in Alberta Theatre Projects’ Enbridge playRites Festival.

The play opens to a whistling tune, with red lanterns adorning the set, as John (Duval Lang) a retiring Vancouver detective, is having celebratory drinks with his old partner Bob (Grant Linneberg). Reminiscing on old times and making plans for the future, the two are back at the Orchid, a club that was prominent in their shared past. John can’t leave an unresolved murder case alone and he is back, 45 years later to see if he can piece together what happened to finally resolve the crime. But perhaps, there are some things that should remain in the past.

The play features flashbacks, smartly orchestrated by a rotating stage (the same featured in the Romeo Initiative) and modern music to ease the transition. The audience goes back into John’s memories, as the set rotates around him. Here, we meet Tak (Sean Baek) the son of the owner of the Orchid, whom John questions about the murder of a Mexican man. Tak is brash, arrogant and cocky, and has been around the block more than once. We also meet Lily, (Meilie Ng) the young, beautiful songstress who warms up to John and discloses a little more information for his case, and Fumi, (Brenda Kamino) Lily’s sister and the current owner of the Orchid.

At first, there doesn’t seem to be much that sets this play apart from other mystery stories. It has the typical elements: an old, retiring detective and that one case that he didn’t resolve. Through the investigation he meets a young woman that he can’t help but fall in love with. A simple minded partner who tries to help him out. Nisei Blue doesn’t present anything unexpected through the first half of the play, though watching a ‘young’ John kiss Lily passionately was a bit jarring. But through the second half, as the play sinks deeper into the recesses of John’s memory, it also starts to depict the shadows of the times. As the war raged in Europe and Japan in 1939, Canada was raging their own war on the Japanese on their land, deporting them and sending them to camps. “You want money to buy things to build some permanence. But with one piece of paper the government can take that away.” The illustration of this violence in our own country is what elevates the play. As the plot progresses and a new murder is committed, John’s perception of the reality of his memories begins to deteriorate and as things begin to crumble, it is parallel to what is going on in Canada at that time.

Jenifer Darbellay’s costume design is worth noting. Lily is dressed in a fabulous yellow dress, complete with long gloves and the detectives look great in their coats and hats. Tak’s white double breasted suit jacket is also a nice touch.

The play is also backed by some great performances. The character of Bob is well written and Linneberg sinks into the crevasses of his personality. Lang puts forward a strong performance, though sustains the same expression through the more chaotic parts of the second half. Ng falls a little short, putting too much acting in her lines, though she is quite a talented singer.

As the mystery is resolved and all the loose ends are tied up, Nisei Blue makes an interesting commentary on being a prisoner, either of war or of one’s mind. Though the main storyline is a little run of the mill, it winds up being the secondary characters and their stories that ultimately engages the viewer.

Nisei Blue runs through to March 5th within Alberta Theatre Projects’ Enbridge playRites Festival. Tickets are available at the door or at atplive.com

Photo Credit: Alberta Theatre Projects

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