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The Art of Gaman review at Theatre503, London – ‘ambitious, but muddled’

Alice Dillon and Tomoko Komura in The Art of Gaman at Theatre503, London. Photo: Helen Murray

Dipika Guha’s sweeping exploration of cultural displacement certainly has ambition. Tracking the life of the tenacious Tomomi (played by Tomoko Komura and then You-Ri Yamanaka), a Japanese emigre from Hiroshima who moves to New York in the 1940s, it’s a play with tenderness and love at its core.

Sadly, however, it feels fundamentally uneven. There’s a lot to unpack in a life, particularly one as knitted with trauma and loneliness as Tomomi’s – her estranged family are contained in US internment camps, she encounters casual racism and animosity because of her ethnicity, her burgeoning queerness is denied, Hiroshima is hit by the atom bomb – these events lie heavy on Tomomi’s head and it’s to the testament of Komura and Yamanaka that her inherent dignity shines through. But it’s not enough.

It’s a frustratingly muddled piece – Guha’s melding of personal trauma with broader political issues is interesting in concept but executed sloppily, with none of the narrative strands given enough room to breathe.

The majority of the supporting characters, aside from Alice Dillon’s charmingly frank Virginia, feel shallow and overly expositional, explaining away their entire backstories in the space of a few lines, appearing and disappearing out of the narrative with exasperating rapidity. Ailin Conant’s direction, though deft and affectionate, often feels bogged down by the convolutions of the script. There are moments of beauty however – the tenderness of the queer, interracial love story is refreshing and delicate, and Simeon Miller’s lighting and projections are hazy and dreamlike, gently evoking the magical realism in Guha’s play.

 

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Verdict
New writing that’s ambitious in scope but muddled in execution
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